For decades, Reforest The Tropics has been measuring the productivity of its forest plantations. In June 2017, for the first time, RTT contracted with an accredited third party, EARTH University, to verify its carbon claims under the protocols established by the International Organization of Standards. The results are fantastic news for RTT and anyone with an interest in global sustainability. Verified forests are averaging 23.66 metric tons (MT) of CO2e capture per hectare, per year! To help put this into perspective, most literature on tropical reforestation demonstrates carbon capture of 10-15 MT of CO2e capture under favorable conditions. In other words, RTT is essentially doubling the carbon capacity of current, successful reforestation projects.
One of RTT’s longstanding research goals was to design a mixed-species forest that can capture and store an average of at least 20 MT of CO2e per hectare, per year. Internally, we recognized this target was ambitious, however we have maintained the belief that lofty goals are fundamental to fulfillment of our mission of ‘making a tangible contribution to global sustainability.’ Not only have we met this objective, but we are exceeding it.
The amazing carbon capture of RTT forests is only part of the story however. Two additional pieces distinguish the RTT approach:
- RTT’s mixed-species forests are more beneficial to the
biome than ubiquitous single species monocultures, and
- RTT forests are designed to generate perpetual income,
which allows partnering landowners to participate in the
project over the long-term.
Essentially, RTT is planting some of the worlds most productive forests…is doing so in more environmentally beneficial manner than typical reforestation models…and is working to ensure they will remain standing indefinitely. Impressive Carbon Capture Verified RTT has focused on forestry research for many years.
Dozens of different planting matrices and mixtures of species have been investigated in order to discover the optimal design to achieve RTT’s three research goals:
- Sequester 500 MT CO2e over the initial 25-year
- Generate $500 income for the landowner per hectare
per year, and
- Create a ‘permanent’ (read 100+ year) farm forest.
The verification process certified carbon from 8 different designs. The most productive forest was able to capture a phenomenal 34.21 MT CO2e per hectare per year for the Mohegan Sun Casino. Conversely, the least productive design achieved a respectable 11.9 MT CO2e per hectare per year. This design is noteworthy, however because one of the species in this mixture succumbed to a disease and had to be removed. Despite the elimination of hundreds of trees, the 5-year old forest is still productive and will only improve in terms of carbon capture as it matures. This example highlights the importance of RTT’s mixed species orthodoxy and offers a fair warning to advocates of a monoculture approach. Furthermore, if we remove this outlier from our analysis, verification results show that RTT forests are actually storing 25.38 MT CO2e per hectare per year.
The Big Picture: If RTT can plant a forest that doubles or triples CO2 capture of the most common reforestation models per hectare, we only need half the land (or less) to extract a corresponding amount of CO2. We at RTT have long known this is possible and now we have official verification of the RTT model’s potential. We thank you for your support as we spread the word.
Reforest The Tropics
When speaking with various stakeholders, we at Reforest The Tropics, often find ourselves talking about the “quality” of different carbon offsets. We maintain that all sustainability efforts are important and worthwhile, however the carbon offsets generated from tropical reforestation projects carry a special significance. Only carbon credits that are created from NEW forests are taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Offsets that are created through energy efficiency programs (think wind, solar, etc) or conservation programs (i.e. avoided deforestation, improved forest management) are only addressing the small yellow circle seen above. Of course, we need to shrink that circle to the extent that is possible, but we must not do so at the expense of ignoring the centuries of excess CO2 that has accumulated (represented by the checkered arc) in the atmosphere. This distinction is extremely important when we view the proportions of the carbon problem that we must tackle.
THERE IS HOPE… The diagram on the left demonstrates the importance of carbon extraction strategies. The planet shares the collective goal and responsibility to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels to approximately 745 Gt CO2 (or 350 parts per million). Currently, the atmosphere contains approximately 850 Gt (or 400 parts per million). Most climate change strategies are currently focusing on limiting the 10 Gt CO2 that are being emitted each year. Although carbon emissions reduction is very important, this graphic illustrates the relatively small impact these efforts have on the climate equation. Due to the longevity of CO2 in the atmosphere (500-800 years), we will never reach our sustainability goals without technologies that EXTRACT CO2 from the atmosphere. Tropical reforestation is our best hope to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and store it for the long term in trees, soil, and wood products. After 50 years of research, RTT models are extracting an average of 25 metric tons per hectare per year. Careful species selection and underplanting of shade tolerant species allows RTT forests to remain productive as carbon capturing tools for over 100 years. Our data indicates that RTT forests can accumulate over 2500 metric tons per hectare within 100 years. Some models have achieved this in only 50 years. Out of the estimated 185 million hectares of deforested land that is ideal for reforestation, we only need 40 million hectares using the RTT model.
Greg Powell, Director, RTT
One of the research goals of Reforest the Tropics is to develop forests with a 100+ year capacity for CO2 capture and storage. Research began in the 1960s by our staff who tested 99 tree species for farm forests. One of the more interesting species was Araucaria hunsteinii, or the “Klinkii Pine” from Papua New Guinea. This species has proven to be an ideal candidate for inclusion in mixed-species plantations. It is noninvasive, grows to tremendous sizes, produces high quality timber, shows promise as a shade tolerant species that can be planted beneath existing canopies, and it coexists well with other species in RTT mixtures. The tallest Klinkii ever formally measured was 273 feet in height and over 6 feet in diameter. This gives the tree a special potential, namely of being able to store CO2 in the form of wood in a live forest stand for a very long time.
Klinkii is now included in virtually all of RTT’s mixed-species designs. RTT’s approach is to develop and test mixed-species models, which reduce the risks of disease and pest attacks associated with traditional monocultures. They also enhance biodiversity, create habitat for a variety of fauna, and have been shown to be more productive than monocultures in their ability to fix CO2.
– Dr. Herster Barres, RTT Director of Research