COP28 is now in the rear-view, and the most interesting result is the formal recognition that action to stop climate change needs to also protect and restore biodiversity.
This is welcome news, since SeaTrees has always believed that the best climate change policy includes restoring marine ecosystems in parallel with taking action on carbon emissions. We call this approach Ocean+Positive. Many companies and individuals have become Ocean Positive through SeaTrees.
In 2024, we expect a major change in the narrative on climate change solutions. Perhaps the most significant in recent memory. Recognizing that the past 25 years of climate policy have not worked well enough to solve the problem of climate change. See below to get our 2024 outlook.
Looking back at 2023, there has been an enormous amount of criticism of carbon markets and carbon offsets. However, most of the articles published have crossed the line of sensationalism.
At SeaTrees, we fundamentally believe that carbon markets produce far more good than bad. Unfortunately, it’s easier to get clicks on negative headlines, compared to a positive headline like: “Carbon offset project slowly sequesters CO2 over 30 years as planned”.
The true story should focus on the positive impacts from the best carbon offset projects, because these projects have enormous positive benefits for both climate change and the people most at risk.
To help cut through sensational headlines, let’s explore these benefits in more detail, from the projects we have hand-picked.
Ridge to Reef Avoided Deforestation
SeaTrees offers carbon credits from “ridge to reef” watersheds that protect coastal watersheds with mangrove trees and coral reefs just offshore. These projects halt deforestation, protect old growth forests, and provide jobs, education, health care and a sustainable future for the local inhabitants.
Our preferred carbon credit source is the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, which is one of the best examples we’ve seen of a driving force for ecosystem preservation. This project protects vital ecosystems and species, uplifts local communities and has halted logging in a country with one of the highest illegal logging rates in the world.
This success story is best told through the benefits to the local community members. Which have fully bought into the project that now achieves a 98% approval rating in the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) process. The project spans 21 villages and approximately 16,000 individuals, and provides benefits such as access to clean water, employment opportunities, disaster relief aid, sustainable agriculture, health care incentives, and educational scholarships.
Science proves the success of Avoided Deforestation
Recent scientific research shows that avoided deforestation projects store double the carbon compared to unprotected adjacent forests. This first-of-its-kind study was made possible with the latest satellite sensing technology. The total carbon stored in all such projects is equivalent to one year of all human CO2 emissions combined. As a result, there was a renewed emphasis at COP28 on halting deforestation, but problems remain. Stopping it is far easier said than done.
Deforestation is highest in developing countries that are resource poor. Should these countries stop using their resources because rich countries have caused climate change? They feel the carbon polluters should pay to protect forests, and wealthy countries have by far the highest cumulative CO2 emissions.
In the mid-2000’s, the advent of voluntary carbon markets created a novel pathway to establish a value system for existing forests that was greater than their value as timber. This process and the pros and cons are eloquently described in the Wall Street Journal article on Mike Korchinsky, the founder of Wildlife Works.
After a decade of trying to stop deforestation in Kenya, without much success, Mike realized that carbon markets could create a long-term commitment of funding to protect forests and help local communities develop sustainably. Wildlife Works has since become the world’s leader in developing high quality avoided deforestation projects, and we’re proud to support these projects through our carbon offset contributions.
2024 Outlook – Nature Positive and Biodiversity Credits
Our team has been actively involved in climate change solutions and carbon offsets since the early 2000s, including the earliest retail sales of carbon offsets. Never before have we seen a greater opportunity to redefine the “good” that carbon offsets can do for both people and the planet. The new buzzwords will be “Nature Positive” and “biodiversity credits”.
To explain, some history of how carbon offsets evolved is needed. Carbon markets have a unique unit of value: a ton of CO2 gas, aka carbon credit. Carbon markets were never seen as the primary solution to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, however they play a key “market mechanism” role that rewards innovation and investment to speed up the overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The science paper referenced above along with the recent growth of the carbon market shows the value of the market mechanism concept. There are now billions of dollars flowing into avoided deforestation projects that would not be flowing without carbon markets. Despite some bad actors and bad luck with failed projects, the checks and balances in the system are stronger than recent headlines would have you believe.
However, carbon market mechanisms have drawbacks. Most importantly, not every ecosystem of value sequesters CO2. For example, coral reefs have the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem on Earth. Yet coral reef restoration has received zero funding from carbon markets because coral reefs are carbon neutral ecosystems.
The Nature Positive Initiative, along with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, will organize and incentivize market mechanisms for the restoration of biodiversity around the world. Although major questions remain, such as what is the unit of value for biodiversity? Everyone in this space is trying to define that unit of value in a way that market mechanisms can operate effectively and with credibility.
A SeaTree is an early biodiversity credit
Since SeaTrees launched in 2019, supporters have been able to restore different types of biodiverse ecosystems in our 22 existing SeaTrees projects:
- Mangrove SeaTrees
- Kelp SeaTrees
- Coral SeaTrees
- Seagrass SeaTrees
- Watershed SeaTrees
- And many more custom SeaTree projects for large donors
Believe it or not, the “SeaTree” is a simplified biodiversity credit, which communicates both biodiversity benefits and financial value that allows market mechanisms to flourish. Given the unknowns and complexity of quantifying biodiversity, it’s our belief that simplicity is key.
This is proven by our success since 2019, having launched 22 SeaTrees projects and planted 3,672,160 million SeaTrees collectively across all projects. But we’re not stopping there. We still have our goal to develop 100 SeaTrees projects by 2030, and plan to launch 8 new projects in 2024.
Additionally, we are working on moving our impact metrics to blockchain to significantly improve transparency and tangibility to donors. This is a revolutionary new idea to solve the multiple coordination failures that prevent biodiversity projects from obtaining funding and measuring impact.
Blending biodiversity and carbon is the ultimate goal
Bringing this article back to the beginning, restoring biodiversity and reversing climate change are finally on a parallel course from the highest level of international policy down to grassroots organizations. Again, this was the most interesting development from COP28, in our opinion.
This also aligns perfectly with our vision. Back in 2019, we launched one of the first blended carbon and biodiversity offset credits which we called the SeaTrees Token. This combines Verra certified carbon credits with planting mangrove trees and restoring kelp forests.
We have had many individuals and corporations “wipe out” their carbon footprint with SeaTrees Tokens, and become Ocean+Positive as a result.
Despite some downturn in the carbon markets due to all the negative criticism, we still see strong price signals for the very best carbon offset projects that already quantify benefits to society and biodiversity, such as the Southern Cardamom project described above.
We also see the visionary leaders of the voluntary market responding to criticism and evolving better ways to create the extraordinary value that carbon markets have provided for both people and the planet. For example, Mike Korchinsky and Wildlife Works have recently launched the Equitable Earth Coalition, in partnership with indigenous peoples, local communities, and Global South countries.
Going forward in 2024, we will soon have many more options for donors to take responsibility for their impact on both climate and biodiversity through our blockchain project. Especially as our scientific collaboration with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography develops new methods for quantifying biodiversity benefits in coral reefs and kelp forests.