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