What are natural climate solutions? How much can they help?
Natural climate solutions are actions to protect, better manage and restore nature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon. Globally, they could deliver more than one-third of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
What are some examples of natural climate solutions?
Generally, natural climate solutions fall into three categories: protecting intact lands like primary forests; improving management of “working” lands like farms or forests; and restoring native cover on land that was previously degraded. In forestry, example activities include avoiding deforestation; following best practices to reduce emissions from managing forests; and reforestation.
What is the Timberland Investment Group’s natural climate solutions strategy?
TIG’s strategy is focused the reforestation pathway, which offers the highest potential for mitigating carbon emissions, but has historically been too expensive to do at the large scales that are needed. The strategy aims to buy previously degraded land in target regions of Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, then to reforest those lands with a mixture – about half of each over the strategy’s whole portfolio – of planted timberland and native cover restoration.
What are the goals for the strategy?
TIG aims to achieve five overarching goals with the strategy over its lifetime:
- Plant about 200 million trees on half of the portfolio; these are designated for commercial timber production and will be certified to Forest Stewardship Council standards.
- Protect and restore about 140,000 hectares of native cover.
- Remove 35 million tons of carbon dioxide (equivalent).
- Benefit communities in, near, and around the assets, including through the generation of 2,700 jobs (FTEs).
- Generate returns at market rates.
How is TIG working to ensure this strategy is maximizing environmental benefits?
The strategy is designed to support both carbon sequestration and other environmental benefits in several ways:
- Long-lived solid wood products: The commercial timberland half of the strategy is being managed on a long rotation to produce solid timber, not pulp. Solid timber and the products made from it (including furniture, panels, and construction materials) “lock up” carbon in the wood for a longer period than pulp-based products like paper or packaging, keeping the carbon sequestered by the trees out of the atmosphere for a longer time.
- Biodiversity benefits: The native forest restoration is being planned to link up, as much as possible, with other patches of native habitat in the regions where the assets are located. This increases connectivity among habitat and makes it possible for animals to move more easily in search of food, mates, and shelter.
- Water quality: Native cover is prioritized near waterways. Large riparian buffers can help protect streams from erosion and pollution, lower water temperatures, and allow more natural streamflow patterns.
- Certification: All commercial timberland established under the strategy will be certified to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent, third-party, audited system that helps to ensure adherence with sustainability criteria.
Are credible environmental organizations working on the natural climate solutions strategy?
TIG is collaborating with Conservation International, the global conservation NGO, which serves as Impact Adviser to the strategy. In that role, CI-Brazil appoints two of the three members of the strategy’s Impact Advisory Board. That Board’s duties are to establish Impact Criteria for the strategy; evaluate acquisitions and management plans for consistency with those impact criteria; review and approve annual impact reports; recommend adoption of existing third-party standards; and make recommendations regarding conservation, impact grants and the identification of potential grant recipients.
How does the reforestation part of the strategy work?
TIG expects to use multiple methods to restore native vegetation and ground cover in degraded landscapes. Natural regeneration (which essentially means to leave land alone and protect it from fire, cattle, and other human disturbance) is a restoration method that has been shown to be very effective at restoring biodiversity, forest structure, and biomass in tropical forests. Other known restoration methods include direct seeding and tree planting. These additional methods may be more appropriate in parts of the landscape where seed sources are limited, site conditions present significant barriers to regeneration, or natural regeneration is otherwise ineffective.
Restoration has not been attempted at this scale in these regions before, so the best method for restoring each site will be determined on a site-by site basis. In addition to the team at CI-Brasil, TIG is working with academic institutions to understand and design the most effective methods for native landscape restoration in this region.
Further, the strategy will make funds available for grants to amplify positive impact at the landscape level, pilot innovative approaches, and ensure technology transfer. The idea is to ensure that this novel business model can inspire other sectors, paving the way for nature-positive economies. TIG believes that the strategy’s restoration experience, and the results of research linked to the strategy, will constitute a significant contribution to the practice of landscape restoration in Latin America.
How much land will be restored to native cover under the strategy?
TIG projects that when fully implemented, the strategy will result in the restoration of native cover on 120,000 hectares (about 296,000 acres), over and above legal requirements. TIG believes that this represents one of the largest landscape restoration initiatives ever attempted in Latin America.
What guidelines does the strategy follow for interacting with local communities?
The strategy strictly abides by the community engagement and free and prior informed consent (FPIC) guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is the standard to which all the strategy’s assets are, or will be, certified. The strategy is further subject to the IFC Performance Standards, which similarly require FPIC for any relevant activities.
In addition, prior to acquiring an asset under the strategy, the Impact Criteria require an index of social progress in communities actually or potentially influenced by project activities. The strategy will conduct annual remeasurement of these variables, enabling monitoring of project impacts against these baselines and the design of community engagement and environmental conservation programs that maximize positive impact.
TIG appreciates that community benefit is vital to the practice of both sustainable forest management and equitable, durable restoration. TIG prioritizes hiring from local communities and takes pride in the professionalism and dedication of our colleagues who operationalize our investment strategies, many of whom live and work in the communities in which our assets are located.
Does the strategy convert native remnant grassland to timber plantation?
No. TIG’s internal policies and the strategy’s Impact Criteria, designed to be confirmed by multiple third-party audits including those under the FSC certification standards, prevent any conversion of any native cover to tree farms. Any remnant native vegetation on each property acquired under the strategy is subject to strict protection.
How can TIG be sure that the strategy isn’t causing more deforestation?
There are two major concerns when it comes to the deforestation issue in this region. One is the possibility of accidentally incentivizing local landowners to deforest their land so that they can sell it later to the strategy as “degraded.” To avoid this possibility, the strategy cannot acquire land that was deforested after 2008, long before the strategy existed. The deforestation history of each property is extensively analyzed by TIG, TIG’s third-party environmental consultants, and by Conservation International to confirm compliance with the strategy’s Impact Criteria. The deforestation history of the property, including confirmation that the strategy causes no deforestation, is further subject to independent third-party verification by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) auditors and by the validator and verifiers accredited to Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard.
The second major concern is that by taking land out of food production, the strategy would drive cattle further into the deforestation frontier. To avoid the problem of displaced beef production, the strategy assesses the average herd size on properties it acquires for the five years prior to its acquisition and either (i) sells existing cattle herds to landowners who agree to increase cattle herds on their existing land bases by a like amount for five years after each sale; or (ii) finances pasture intensification (improved pasture grasses, fertilization, etc.) to increase stocking on other ranches for five years after each acquisition. In both cases, the increase in cattle stocking, with no change in pasture area, is subject to independent, third-party verification by entities accredited by Verra, the leading voluntary carbon registry.
 Renato Crouzeilles et al., Ecological restoration success is higher for natural regeneration than for active restoration in tropical forests. Sci. Adv.3,e1701345(2017). DOI:10.1126/sciadv.1701345