Why doesn't atmosfair support forest projects?
In principle, atmosfair has a positive opinion of forest projects. Projects that safeguard existing forests or help with reforestation can contribute to climate protection. However, atmosfair does not consider financing forest projects through voluntary CO₂ offsetting to be the right approach due to the following problems:
1. Lasting CO₂ binding and leakage
Lack of permanency is a problem that has not been solved when it comes to forest projects. A forest must exist for at least 50 (if not 100) years in order to still have had any real impact on climate protection if the forest is then cut down again or disappears in another way (e.g., due to a pest infestation). However, there is no project operator and protection system or climate protection standard that can guarantee that they will still exist in five decades, especially in light of uncertain market conditions for CO₂ offsetting (see below). Forests generally still require active protection, especially in developing countries. This is because various parties often justifiably compete for different ways to use the land at hand. This pressure concerning land usage is more likely to increase than decrease in the future.
Furthermore, the problem of leakage has not been solved. When a forest project displaces various actors or other causes of deforestation to other parts of the forest beyond the project’s borders, then CO₂ certificates are produced in the project; however, the forest is still being logged elsewhere. It has not been clarified how the potential impact on the climate balance can even be captured.
2. Uncertain market for CO₂ offsetting
Forest project operators have to shoulder high investment sums, especially at the beginning. For this reason, some already distribute forest certificates at the beginning of the project period (“upfront certificates”). However, this procedure leads to the ability to purchase CO₂ offsetting for a future planned forest even though the trees were only just planted and have not bound any CO₂.
Moreover, the price of CO₂ offsetting is subject to substantial market fluctuation. There has already been a downward trend in this area since 2008. This presents a large degree of uncertainty for long-term forest projects. Missing revenues can lead to project operators no longer being able to secure their projects, and in the worst-case scenario, they cannot even regularly keep track of the stock of trees.
3. Violation of human rights
There are examples of forest projects that restrict human rights instead of creating new income opportunities for small farmers. For example, small farmers in Brazil were forced to give up their traditional system of shifting cultivation for the benefit of a forest project.