New guide on how to ensure forest projects deliver promised benefits comes amidst soaring carbon offset prices and fresh calls for improved governance of natural capital projects

Against a backdrop of rising carbon offset prices and a surge in corporate forest protection pledges, The Trillion Trees initiative has today launched a new interactive guide to help consumers and businesses invest in effective forest restoration projects.

The initiative – the result of a joint venture between WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society and BirdLife International – this morning debuted its new online tool which aims to take users through a series of nine diagnostic questions they should consider when assessing any forest restoration initiative.  

The questions address issues such as whether the project prioritises the protection of standing forests, delivers the ‘right trees in the right place’, involves local people, and has mechanisms in place to track long term progress.

Dubbed the Trillion Trees Guide to Investing in Forest Restoration, the online portal aims to provide prospective projects with a score based on their ability to deliver progress against three-interrelated challenges: the urgent need to address the climate crisis, the loss of global biodiversity, and the increasing inequality of opportunities for people around the world.

“This diagnostic tool is a big step forward,” said Robin Chazdon, Professor of Tropical Forest Restoration at the University of the Sunshine Coast. “While careful detailed analysis is required when designing restoration programmes, this interactive guide will be a valuable asset to those who are considering different options for investments in forest restoration to assist the recovery of ecosystems.”

Her comments were echoed by John Lotspeich, executive director of Trillion Trees, who argued that the wave of multilateral forest protection commitments secured on the sidelines of last year’s COP26 Climate Summit should trigger a new wave of investment in forest-related projects.  

“At COP26 in Glasgow, the crucial role forests play in stabilising our climate, protecting biodiversity and providing economic opportunity came into sharper focus than ever before,” he said. “Political will and the financial commitments made there present a huge opportunity to deliver the enormous benefits of forests to address these challenges. But we cannot afford, and we don’t have time, to get it wrong. This interactive tool is a first step to enabling investors – corporate, private and institutional – to interrogate any forest restoration schemes they are considering so that they can better understand how to achieve maximum impact for their investments in restoration.”

The new guide comes in the same week as new data from analyst firm S&P Global Platts indicated that the price of nature-based carbon offsets, such as those issued by forest and peat-based projects, rose three-fold over the past six months from around $4.65 per tonne of carbon to around $14.40.

The surge in prices has been triggered by soaring demand, as companies and investors ramp up efforts to deliver on their net zero emission or carbon neutrality targets in part by securing access to more carbon offsets. Providers of nature-based offsets, which by definition take time to come online as land is secured for new projects and emissions reductions are verified, have struggled to keep pace with rising demand leading to a sharp increase in prices.

However, growing demand for offsets and the increased interest in forest protection projects is continuing to fuel calls for enhanced governance and regulation to ensure that projects deliver promised emissions reductions and do not lead to unintended consequences.

This week also saw the publication of two new reports from think tank Green Alliance focused on the potential to enhance natural capital and carbon offset markets in the UK. The reports concluded that natural carbon sequestration could be worth £1.7bn a year in the UK – equivalent to around half the annual public subsidies paid to farmers and landowners – but it also warned significant new governance mechanisms, including the creation of an Office for Carbon Removal, are needed to ensure natural capital payments deliver their promised environmental and economic benefits.

Similarly, the reports warn that farmers should be “wary” of selling carbon offsets directly to buyers, when they could potentially better maximise emissions savings and revenues by working with large food customers that have committed to decarbonising their supply chains.

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