March 28, 2016|By Carrie Gombos| Climate

I have five-year-old twin sons, and one of them in particular has a great interest in the natural world and especially the weather, so I bought him a book about climate. He enjoyed it but was alarmed after reading the chapter about climate change and how humans are contributing to it. “Mommy,” he said with a panicked expression on his face, “we should never ride in our car again!” While I agreed that climate change is a big problem facing the world today, I tried to reassure him by reminding him that many people, including myself, work every day to slow down its effects. He looked puzzled. “But Mommy,” he pointed out, “you work on trees, not the weather.” And so I began the process of explaining to him how trees and forests are a critical tool in the fight against climate change.

Gombos 1As a mother of two young boys, I have introduced my children to the beauty of forests and delight in watching their explorations. Photo by Rebecca Emily Drobis.

The connection between preserving forests and mitigating climate change has been established for a long time. In December 2015, at the United Nation’s climate change conference in Paris, the critical role of forests in combating climate change was formally recognized. Article 5 of the Paris agreement states: “Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases… including forests.”

This is critical because more than 45 million acres of forestland are at risk of development due to short-term financial interests in the U.S. alone. In particular, these lands are being sold and then resold in smaller pieces to be converted into residential and commercial space. As forests become fragmented, their ability to filter our water and remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air is compromised, and there is less space for wildlife to live and migrate. That harms our climate, our wild places and our economy.

Current estimates state that as much as 50% of the increase in atmospheric CO2 over the last 50 years may be due to the effects of land use change. Furthermore, climate scientists postulate that between 12-17% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation. So, protecting and restoring forestland represents one way, among others, to reverse these effects and combat climate change. Given the scale of the effort required to tackle climate change, we need to pursue new technologies that help us reduce our footprint and at the same time, recognize and use the tools we have at our fingertips—for ourselves and our children.

Gombos 2As a leader in the forest carbon market, we’ve levered carbon finance to protect more than 70,000 acres of working forestland on the north coast of California. Photo by Chad Riley.

Here at The Conservation Fund, we have long recognized that forests need to be part of the climate change solution. Since 2004, we have owned and managed more than 70,000 acres of working forest in California’s Sonoma and Mendocino counties. To give you a sense of scale, you could walk about 25 miles in any one direction from the center of the property and never leave our ownership. By managing these lands as sustainable forests, we are able to rebuild commercial timber inventories that support the local economy. At the same time, the profits from our forestry work helps upgrade roads, restore stream conditions for animals, and repay the loans taken to acquire the property.

And, most critically for climate change, redwood forests store more carbon per acre than any other forest type. The Cap-and-Trade Program, which is a key element of California’s climate plan, allows regulated entities to use allowances or offsets to meet their compliance obligations. Under California’s emerging cap and trade market, we measure and sell some of that carbon on the market in the form of carbon offsets. Forest-based offsets are one of six allowed offset types and one of the most widely used. The Conservation Fund’s forests are among the top producers of forest-based carbon offsets in California’s system.

Gombos 3In 2015 we completed the sale of more than $2 million in carbon offsets on Buckyeye Forest in California, which will be reinvested in the property for its permanent protection. Photo by Micheal Macor.

California’s program has provided a mechanism to support the goal of forest conservation within the U.S. Now, the Paris agreement has sent a strong signal to the entire world that we cannot fight climate change without improving the management of forests worldwide to store carbon. The younger generations will inevitably ask us what we did to help combat climate change. It fills me with hope and optimism to know that I can walk with my sons through the California redwood forests and explain to them how the Fund’s efforts to save these beautiful trees also helps slow the effects of climate change across their planet.