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
This past February marked the 10th consecutive month in which the average global temperature set a record for warmth. Scientists are warning that the current rate of warming is unprecedented in the known history of our planet. As our globe continues to warm, it is becoming increasingly clear to even the most entrenched skeptics that we have a responsibility to address the excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
When a corporation, institution, individual, or other entity wishes to balance their carbon emissions, they often first turn towards efficiency measures. Light bulbs are changed, insulation is installed, packaging is reduced, transportation is addressed, and other activities are pursued that limit energy use and reduce carbon emissions. Even the most aggressive investments into energy efficiency however will not yield carbon neutrality. The one option to balance remaining carbon emissions is the pursuit of carbon offset projects.
The World Bank has stated that carbon is the world’s fastest growing commodities market, with an annual value approaching $200 billion. These carbon offsets come in various forms. Most common are credits that are given for renewable energy projects (solar, wind, geothermal, etc), improved forest management (managing forests in a manner that allows them to store more carbon than the norm), credits for avoided deforestation or degradation (the UN’s REDD mechanism allots credits to countries that limit deforestation beyond historical averages) and reforestation.
Fraud in the carbon market
A closer look at the inner workings of these strategies, however, exposes some uncomfortable realities. Horror stories of massive fraud are easy to find on the internet and exist across all sectors of the carbon market. Due to lax regulations and the difficulties in monitoring, various bad actors have gamed the system to issue millions upon millions of fraudulent carbon credits. An investigation conducted by INTERPOL in 2011 revealed that “up to 90% of all carbon trading in some countries was a result of fraudulent activities. This fraud was estimated to have resulted in the losses to several governments of around 5 billion euros in just over 18 months.”
These examples have soured many individuals, policy makers, corporations, and institutions on the validity and efficacy of carbon trading and have hampered the global effort to combat climate change. These entities, already facing the burden to invest in sustainability, now face the added and unfortunate challenge to ensure that the carbon they are dealing with is in fact legitimate.
The Reforest The Tropics Difference
Reforest The Tropics recognizes this challenge to buyers, and has committed to provide offsets of the highest quality and of the greatest transparency than any available. RTT has both its methodology and its calculations for its carbon capture audited by an independent forestry consultant every two years. RTT also offers Gold Standard verification of its carbon as required by its partners. Gold Standard carbon undergoes rigorous examination to ensure that it is accurately measured and reported.
Another mechanism to ensure carbon transparency is the individualized manner in which we operate. RTT tailors each project to a specific sponsor. Rather than the purchase of ‘pooled’ carbon from a large and ambiguous forest, RTT plants specifically for each sponsor. When a new forest is planted, the sponsor receives the GPS coordinates for the forest plot, and a large sign is installed to identify the sponsor and the details of the project. RTT sends photos and reports to each partner with the idea that sustainability initiatives will be most successful if emitters have an intimate connection to their project. Sponsors are even encouraged to visit their plots in order to experience their sustainability efforts firsthand. No other program offers this level of transparency for the carbon it captures.
The explosive growth of the carbon market is testament to the responsibility that buyers feel towards our environment. Although some will continue to seek the cheapest carbon credits available, they are risking an outcome that amounts to little more than empty bragging rights. Buyers that are seeking to make a true difference in the climate change equation are encouraged to seek carbon credits that they can see, measure, and touch with their own hands. RTT is proud to provide this option.
– Greg Powell, RTT Director