How to choose between supporting afforestation and forest conservation?
What is “afforestation” and what is “conservation”?
Simply put, “afforestation” means planting new trees. “Conservation”, on the other hand, means restoring and protecting ecosystems like forests and peat bogs that already exist but are at risk of disappearing.
Benefits and Limitations
Afforestation and conservation have different benefits and limitations. You can see these very clearly in two Reforestum projects.
Example #1: Génesis
Génesis is an afforestation project to fight desertification in Northern Spain. We’ve planted 12 native tree species on 4.9 hectares of land.
Reforestum - Genesis afforestation project
- Captures carbon in the trees, soil and animals that live in the forest
- Improves the local landscape by converting disused farmland into a beautiful forest
- Reduces the risk of desertification (the land becoming dry and barren) by stopping soil erosion and regulating water flow.
- Time: It takes up to 100 years for a forest like Génesis to reach its full potential as a carbon store. Spanish legislation however ensures that once registered as a forest, the trees must be kept standing and land cannot be converted back, ensuring the long term viability of the project.
- Location: Afforestation projects should ideally be located in places where it makes sense to have a forest composed of native species of trees, and take into account important aspects like biodiversity and maintenance.
Example #2: Sumatra Merang Peatland Project
In the Merang peatlands of Indonesia, we’re helping a conservation project restore and protect a peat bog.
Ecosphere+ Sumatra Merang peat restoration project
- Keeps 4.9 million tons of C02 stored in the bog that would otherwise be at risk of being released
- Transitions local people into sustainable livelihoods like well managed fishing and forest protection
- Safeguards a unique habitat for animals like the endangered Sumatran tiger
- Complexity: Conservation only works when it is driven by local communities, who conduct most of the work including providing communities who rely on the forest for their livelihood with sustainable alternatives.
- Additionality: A key aspect for any conservation project is to ensure they bring about emissions reductions or removals that would not have taken place without the project. Complex calculations are required to know how much additional carbon is being stored in peatland like Sumatra Merang through the project’s interventions compared to a baseline.
Which is better - afforestation or conservation - and why?
At Reforestum, we support both planting new trees for the long term and keeping existing forests and peatlands safe in the short term.
It’s all about keeping the maximum amount of carbon stored in land. We need to do that. Here’s how that works.
When there’s too much carbon in the air, it causes the greenhouse effect. We need to keep carbon somewhere else: in the land. So we should always be asking ourselves: how can we store the most possible carbon in the land?
There are three ways we can keep the maximum amount of carbon in the land.
1. Create new places to store carbon in land
Afforestation does exactly that. The trees we plant take carbon out of the air and store it in their trunks, branches, roots and even in the soil beneath them.
Afforestation is a way to turn a piece of land into a store of carbon. And a beautiful, biodiverse forest.
2. Increasing the maximum carbon storage capacity of forests and peat bogs.
When forests do not have the maximum number of trees they could have, they are known as “degraded forests”. Degraded forests don’t have enough trees to store as much carbon as a healthy one. The same idea is true for degraded peat bogs.
Conserving forests and peat bogs by restoring them to a healthy condition means they can store as much carbon as possible in the land they occupy.
3. Stopping carbon from moving into the air from the land
When you cut down forests or drain peat bogs, all the carbon that was stored in the trees and soil is released. After this initial carbon release, the land is often used for activities which produce even more C02, like farming.
Protecting forests and peat bogs from destruction stops green house gas emissions from being released into the air.
So both afforestation projects and conservation projects keep more carbon in the land. Neither one is better than the other. Stopping and reversing climate change requires both. That’s why we wholeheartedly support both afforestation and conservation projects.
Why choose when you can support both
Reforestum supporters are already using forest shares to make afforestation projects like Génesis a reality. They are also funding conservation projects, like Sumatra Merang, through the purchase of carbon credits (also known as Verified Carbon Units, or VCUs).
We’re not stopping with just those projects. We’ll be adding many more, like Cordillera Azul. It’s going to stop 25.2 million tons of C02 from being emitted.
Does that sound like a conservation project or an afforestation project to you? Check out the project to find out!