To Fight Climate Change with Forests, Two Steps Forward

forest in Papua New Guinea

Forest in Papua New Guinea. The world’s tropical forests are often called the “lungs of the Earth,” absorbing carbon dioxide and converting it into oxygen. When forests are cut down, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change. (© Trond Larsen)

In 2013 I blogged about why the world needed to support a global forest carbon market, which was in a tough spot. A year and a half later, recent successes are building momentum that we hope will result in a comprehensive U.N. climate change agreement in Paris later this year.

Although conservation funding still remains woefully inadequate to tackle global deforestation, signs of change are pointing in the right direction as individuals, companies and organizations step up to assume responsibility and address the most glaring of gaps.

This month, I’ve been heartened to hear two important developments connected to CI’s work:

  1. The Althelia Climate Fund successfully completed fundraising and has repaid CI, marking the end of our largest monetary investment in a private sector partner. 

CI partnered with Althelia, which focuses on climate-friendly sustainable land management, when the fund was still in its infancy and in need of early-stage support. With funding from CI’s Global Conservation Fund at the height of the financial crisis, Althelia was provided with the working capital needed to get through a tough market and eventually go on to raise over US$ 120 million, making it the largest private investor in “natural capital” worldwide and demonstrating the leveraging potential of well-targeted investments.

Althelia’s range of partnerships focused on ecosystem protection, restoration and sustainable agriculture are now starting to (literally) bear fruit. The transaction is a great example of how CI works with partners to take good ideas and make them great through a combination of technical support and funding, filling a critical niche that enables conservation impacts to scale up. We will continue to partner with Althelia through our participation in their expert board and specific on-the-ground collaboration.

  1. CI Peru’s Alto Mayo forest carbon project has reduced deforestation at the site by 75% from baseline levels — the first time a project in Peru has reached this milestone.

Although fresh sources of funding like Althelia are critical, they are useless if they aren’t leading toward positive conservation outcomes. This has been the whole premise behind the carbon finance market: providing governments, companies and communities with financial incentives and support to reduce deforestation.

Our Alto Mayo REDD+ project recently concluded a second independent verification, in which third-party experts analyze satellite images and conduct on-the-ground interviews to measure the project’s actual impact compared to baseline data. The progress we’ve made will enable the project to seek continued financing through the sale of carbon credits and other revenue streams like sustainable coffee production.

Much of the project’s success can be attributed to support from donors like USAID and Disney, underscoring the value of public-private alliances. This achievement, taken together with other successful pilot projects being developed across the globe, are demonstrating to the world that forest carbon projects can work, and are already paying real dividends in terms of avoiding emissions and improving lives.

As the world prepares to make a final big push toward a global climate deal in Paris, protecting forests is emerging as one of the most visible, immediate, “no regrets” solutions to meeting ambitious climate goals. Of course, more work is needed if we are to turn the tide of deforestation, but as this recent news demonstrates, successes exist and can be replicated. For the first time in many years, it seems like success may finally be within our grasp.

Agustin Silvani is the managing director of carbon finance in CI’s Ecosystem Finance and Markets division.

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