Talks

The world’s largest reforestation project

 By RP Siegel

Researchers around the world are working at a frantic pace to come up with new methods to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere…

For example, many experts are looking at some combination of bio-energy with carbon capture, commonly known as BECCS as one way to reduce atmospheric carbon levels. However, a recent study conducted at the University of Exeter found that regenerating forests might be a better option. Many experts question whether any new technology is as effective, or as well-integrated into the Earth’s ecosystem as a forest. Forests absorb carbon dioxide from the air, which they turn into leaves, bark, roots and branches, effectively locking the carbon in for the life of each tree. In the Amazon region alone, some 70 billion tons of CO2 are sequestered each year. But mankind has been destroying forests for centuries to make room for agriculture and for cities and towns and, in the process, removing this natural mechanism for maintaining the carbon balance between the Earth, its atmosphere and its oceans.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that humanity has now cleared one-half of all tropical forests. Forests now cover roughly 30 percent of all land area, but they are disappearing at a rate of 18.7 million acres per year (equal to 27 soccer fields per minute). That’s the equivalent to the land area of West Virginia plus Connecticut, every year.
One way to push back against this is to restore forests. That is exactly what a project coordinated by Conservation International (CI) intends to do in the Amazon region of Brazil. Over a six-year period, they will plant some 73 million trees over an area of 70,000 acres that had previously been cleared for pasture land. This is the largest project of its kind in the world.

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An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers (Reuters)

Joining forces to save the Amazon forest

CI’s CEO M. Sanjayan, called it, “a breathtakingly audacious project.” He went on to note that, “The fate of the Amazon depends on getting this right — as do the region’s 25 million residents, its countless species and the climate of our planet”. Sanjayan has credibility in this area; he has been named one of the top 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company, which said of the project, “this isn’t just about trees, but proving a replicable model for climate action at scale, which saves lives”.
Rodrigo Medeiros, vice president of CI’s Brazil office, added, “Protecting the Amazon is not something we should think in the future — we have to do it now.”
Partnering on the project with CI are the Brazilian Ministry of Environment, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank, the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (Funbio) and Rock in Rio’s environmental arm “Amazonia Live.”

Different approaches towards the same goal

The project will make use of an innovative planting strategy called muvuca, which was only recently developed in Brazil. The strategy requires a diverse mix of over 200 tree species be dispersed over every square acre of degraded land. This will both provide bio-diversity in the reforested area and allow for “survival of the fittest, determining which species will thrive where. Studies performed in 2014 by the Food and Agriculture Organization and Biodiversity International, found that this approach produced forests that were particularly robust, exhibiting the ability “to survive drought conditions for up to six months without irrigation.”

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Preparing muvuca, a mixture of seeds of native trees, fast-growing legumes, and sand for direct-seeding (Luciana Akemi Deluci, researchgate.net)

The diversity has an added bonus; a recent study coming out of China found that a forest with a mix of species could store as much as twice the amount of carbon as a monoculture forest.
If there is any question as to the value of reforestation, it’s about how much can be done quickly enough because of the time it takes for new forests to establish themselves. Looking at the math, 70,000 acres is only a drop in the bucket compared to what is being cut down. But the idea is that this will provide a catalyst that will spread to a much wider area. This effort is, in fact, tied to a broader, regional initiative called the Amazonia Sustainable Landscapes project, which targets the restoration of nearly 30 million acres by 2030. Funded by the World Bank, this project will not only increase the size of ecosystems and provide interconnection between them, but it will also develop sustainable value chains in the region to provide less destructive economic options for the local population.
Ultimately, the question will likely not be about choosing between reforestation, BECCS and other forms of carbon-negative technology, such as direct air capture. Given the accelerating rate of temperature rise, we’re going to need to use every tool we have available, deployed as quickly as possible to bring atmospheric carbon levels down. Restoring forests will certainly help, but can it help enough, soon enough? As more and more of these approaches move from concept to implementation, we’ll continue to learn which are most effective, where.

READ MORE: Replanting trees with drones  by Livia Formisani

about the author
RP Siegel
Skilled writer. Technology, sustainability, engineering, energy, renewables, solar, wind, poverty, water, food. Studied both English Lit.and Engineering at university level. Inventor.