A Climate Solution Hidden in Plain Sight

November 8, 2017 | Dr. Jeff Wells

Conceptually, protecting forests for the sake of their carbon is easy.

But in conversations about natural solutions to climate change, especially protecting or restoring forests, one quickly can get into the complicated details and acronyms – REDD, verification, validation, carbon finance, voluntary market standards, offsets, leakage – the list can bewildering even for the most determined supporter of forest carbon conservation.

The truth is the ways to protect the forests for their carbon fall into just two categories:

  1. provide incentives to protect the forests and keep their carbon intact. 
  2. institute disincentives that discourage activities that cause the loss and degradation of forests and their carbon.

Incentives can include providing financial compensation in return for protecting the forest and its carbon. The United Nations REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) is an example of that idea applied to tropical forests in developing countries. There is no similar broadly adopted program for North America’s Boreal Forest biome (in either Canada or Alaska) at this time although, as I’ve written before, it is one of the largest terrestrial storehouses of carbon on the planet!

Disincentives could include laws or regulations that require any proposed land-use change (i.e. industrial development) activity to estimate its impact on loss of carbon from trees and soil. If a project went forward, the company carrying out the development might have to compensate financially for the carbon it displaced into the atmosphere. This kind of disincentive could potentially encourage industrial development activities to find solutions that would have the least impact on carbon stores (and hopefully also the least impact on biodiversity and ecological function). Currently there is no broadly adopted program of disincentives to activities that cause carbon loss in North America’s Boreal Forest biome (in either Canada or Alaska).

The massive stores of carbon in the Boreal Forest can and will have an impact on climate change globally. As the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference is underway this week, it’s time for policy makers to seriously consider pushing through the complicated details to find some simple solutions that conserve the “cold carbon” of the Boreal Forest of Canada and Alaska.

I wrote yesterday about some amazing positive, creative land conservation that tackles not only carbon stewardship but also protection of biodiversity and supports Indigenous leadership across Canada that should be part of these solutions. Read more here:


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