Global Green Carbon

Why Forests Matter

80 percent of the world's species can be found in the forest

Forests provide many important natural resources – from timber to paper to medicinal plants. They purify the air we breathe, help sustain the quality and availability of freshwater supplies, and regulate local and global climate by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Many of the world’s most threatened and endangered  animals live in forests, and 1.6 billion people rely on ecosystem services forests offer, including for food, clothing, traditional medicine, shelter and subsistence agriculture. Yet nearly 36 million acres of natural forest is lost each year – an area roughly the size of New York State. This rapid forest loss is having devastating consequences for the environment, and the wildlife and communities that depend on forests for their survival.

Forests absorb carbon dioxide through their photosynthesis cycle, hence increasing forests with reforestation and discouraging deforestation will help mitigate global warming. Forest ecosystems are especially important to the global carbon cycle in two ways. First, they are responsible for moving around three billion tons of anthropogenic carbon every year. This amounts to about 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Second, forest ecosystems are terrestrial carbon sinks in that they store large amounts of carbon which accounts for as much as double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Canadell and Raupach (2008) believe that there are four major strategies available to mitigate carbon emissions through forestry activities: increase the amount of forested land through a reforestation process; increase the carbon density of existing forests at a stand and landscape scale; expand the use of forest products that will sustainably replace fossil-fuel emissions; and reduce carbon emissions that are caused from deforestation and degradation.

Deforestation & Forest Degradation

Deforestation in EcuadorDeforestation and forest degradation are the second leading cause to climate change, accounting for around 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions.  According to the FAO (2005), deforestation, mainly conversion of forests to agricultural land, continues at an alarming rate of approximately 13 million hectares per year.

Deforestation results in immediate release of the carbon originally stored in the trees as CO2 emissions (with small amounts of CO and CH4), particularly if the trees are burned and the slower release of emissions from the decay of organic matter.  The IPCC WGIII (2007) estimated emissions from deforestation in the 1990s to be at 5.8 GtCO2/yr.

Reforestation and reducing deforestation is the mitigation option with the largest and most immediate carbon stock impact in the short term per hectare and per year globally.  According to McKinsey & Company’s latest analysis of global abatement opportunities, approximately 46% of the global emissions reduction and sequestration potential by 2020 exists in the forestry and agricultural sectors.

Land degradation map

Deforestation Hot Spots


Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Uses (AFOLU) projects focus on natural carbon sinks such as forests and soil. Deforestation can be avoided either by paying directly for forest preservation, or by using offset funds through carbon financing to reforest degraded land. There are a number of different types of AFOLU forestry projects:

  • Avoided Deforestation -- also called forest conservation, forest preservation or REDD (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) --- is the protection of existing forests.
  • Afforestation is the process of creating forests on land that was previously unforested, typically for longer than a generation.
  • Reforestation is the process of restoring forests on land that was once forested.
  • Forest Management, also called improved forest management or active forest management, means changing management approaches so that standing volume in the forest is increased. Management practices may include extended rotations or greater retention of trees at harvest. Practices such as forest thinning can both reduce fire risk and stimulate growth that, over time, increases carbon storage.

Forest Carbon Offsets: An Introduction

Forest carbon offsets are part of a market-based, cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Offsets promote market efficiency by allowing polluters to seek low-cost opportunities to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets.

In a forest carbon offset program, communities/landowners/project developers may sell credits for the storage of carbon in the forests they manage or own. For every credit sold, representing a ton of carbon stored in the forest, a polluter is able to emit an extra ton of carbon dioxide. For this reason, it is important to carefully consider the design and implementation of offset programs and adhere to stringent standards and certifications. If targets for greenhouse gas reductions are to be met, the use of offsets must be legitimate and verifiable.

As mentioned above there is a class of mechanisms referred to as REDD schemes (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), which may be included in a post-Kyoto agreement. REDD credits provide carbon offsets for the protection of forests, and provide a possible mechanism to allow funding from developed nations to assist in the protection of native forests in developing nations.

Forest Offset Terminology

Additionality: Additionality in a forest offset requires that the carbon stored by the project came as a result of the incentives provided by greenhouse gas markets, voluntary or mandatory — that the storage was, in essence, additional to usual business practices. A variety of tests/standards have been proposed for evaluating offset project additionality.

Baseline: A forest project baseline defines the business-as-usual trend, the emissions that would have occurred in absence of the project. It is to this baseline that additional offsets are calculated. Provisions for determining future baseline carbon storage could depend on historical practices or practices of similarly-situated neighbors.

Leakage: Leakage is the displacement of greenhouse gas emissions from a project area to other lands, a result of continuing market demand for forest products. Leakage is particularly of concern in forest conservation offset projects (REDD projects), because conserving forests in one location may shift logging operations to another region or country.

Permanence: The climate benefits of forest carbon sequestration may be compromised through harvests or through a disturbance, such as fire or insect infestation. In such cases, the carbon stored in a forest offset project may be emitted to the atmosphere. To guard against these kinds of contingences, protocols attempt to assure the permanence of forestry offset projects. Leading standards require project developers to insure against reversals. Insurance can take the form of tons of carbon contributed to a reserve buffer pool or an insurance contract.

Integrated Land Management

Afforestation/Reforestation (A/R) projects  involve planting trees on land that was not recently forest (afforestation), or that was more recently deforested (reforestation). Such forests can either be left standing, earning funds through the carbon they sequester, or can be managed as plantation forests.

Improved Forest Management (IFM) project involves taking existing managed forests (normally plantations) and changing the management system in order to increase carbon stocks. For example this could include introducing reduced impact logging, or increasing the rotation length.

Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) projects create carbon credits by implementing measures that reduce the deforestation or degradation of a forest that already exists. In this way the carbon storage and biodiversity of existing forests under threat can be protected, with funding provided to enable the development of alternative sustainable livelihoods for local communities. Such projects typically have to be implemented at a large scale and over a long time period in order to be effective.

About 60 percent of rainforest deforestation is caused by the shifted cultivator, who is usually pushed to marginal lands by lack of other suitable land.  An approach to addressing the needs of this marginalized, and often impoverished, group is through the improvement and intensification of existing agricultural projects and promoting alternative cultivation techniques— most notably through agroforestry.

  • Agroforestery intentionally combines agriculture and forestry to create integrated and sustainable land-use systems
  • Agroforestry takes advantage of the interactive benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock (silvopasture)


Defined as intensive land-use management combining trees and/or shrubs with crops and/or livestock, Agroforestry practices are designed to integrate diverse farm components to meet specific landowner objectives.

Agroforestry practices help landowners to diversify products, markets, and farm income; improve soil and water quality; and reduce erosion, non-point source pollution and damage due to flooding. The integrated practices of agroforestry enhance land and aquatic habitats for fish and wildlife and improve biodiversity while sustaining land resources for generations to come.

Agroforestry is comprised of five key practices:

Alley Cropping

Alley Cropping is the practice of planting rows of trees at wide intervals of spacing; interlaced with a companion crop grown in the alleyways between the rows. Alley Cropping provides a wide variety of benefits to the farm. Working to diversify farm income, alley cropping also generates an improvement to crop production and protection, as well as aiding in their conservation welfare. The most basic example of Alley Cropping would be wheat, corn, soybeans or hay planted in between rows of black walnut or pecan trees. However, non-traditional or value added crops may also be incorporated as income generators.

Forest Farming

Forest farming is a close cousin to ally cropping. However, instead of staple crops such as corn, high-value specialty crops such as coffee, cacao, and medicinal herbs are grown under the protection of a forest canopy that has been planned and developed to provide the correct shade level. High value crops planted under fine hardwoods like teak, mahogany, and rosewood have recently been applied throughout Forest Farming systems. These combinations work to provide high value timber or veneer stocks while income is derived from the companion crop planted in the shade zone, essentially subsidizing the growth timeline of timber stocks.

Riparian Buffers

Riparian Forest Buffers (RFB) are an essential component of erosion and water quality control. RFB’s are natures clean up crew. Acting as living filters, trees, shrubs, forbs and grasses, including native plants, absorb excess nutrients from surface run-off and shallow ground water, metabolizing these excess nutrients rendering them innate and keeping them out of the local the watershed. The cover provided by these RFB’s creates an effective tool for controlling erosion. By establishing a network of root systems the soil is held more tightly together and is able to maintain a more balanced level moisture. Additionally, the cover provides protection from the wind blowing away valuable topsoil, while affording food and cover for wildlife.


Silvopasture combines trees, forage, and livestock as one holistically managed system. In a typical silvopasture practice, perennial grasses and/or grass-legume mixes are planted between rows of trees for livestock grazing. The trees not only provide a long-term investment for nut crops or a timber harvest, but also provide the animals shade in the summer and a windbreak in the winter. In turn, the forage base provides feed for beef cattle which ultimately provides livestock sales for short-term income. A silvopasture practice diversifies farm income; can minimize the need for chemical or mechanical vegetation control; and can reduce hay and feeding costs for livestock.


Windbreaks are implemented and managed as part of agricultural systems to enhance production, protect livestock, and control soil erosion. Field windbreaks protect a variety of wind- sensitive row, cereal, vegetable, orchard and vine crops, control wind erosion, and increase bee pollination and pest management effectiveness.




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