Technical Summary

Forest Protection

Project Drawdown defines forest protection as: the legal protection of forest lands, leading to reduced deforestation rates and the safeguarding of carbon sinks. This solution replaces non-protected forest land. It is assumed that forest protection primarily happens at the government and non-governmental organization (NGO) level. 

Mature, healthy forests have spent decades or centuries accumulating carbon through photosynthesis. They represent massive storehouses of carbon in soils and biomass. Yet, forests are being cleared and degraded at a rapid rate, causing carbon loss as well as negative impacts on ecosystem services like habitat, erosion control, soil-building, water regulation, water supply, and air pollution removal.

Forest protection reduces these emissions from deforestation. Emissions from tropical deforestation and forest degradation alone are estimated at 5.1-8.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year. This accounts for 14-21 percent of anthropogenic emissions (International Sustainability Unit, 2015). Future deforestation and forest degradation, although difficult to estimate due to uncertainties in population growth, enforcement of existing laws, scaling up of bioenergy, and other factors, are likely to contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions over the 21st century.

Methodology

Total Land Area[1]

The total land area available for the forest protection solution was set to 1,155 million hectares.[2] Current adoption[3] of forest protection is 651.0 million hectares (MacDicken et. al., 2015).

Adoption Scenarios[4]

Ten custom adoption scenarios were developed for forest protection. All begin with current adoption of 651.0 million hectares. A total of 1155 million hectares of non-degraded forest area was allocated to this solution. Given the continuous rate (0.47 percent per annum) of forest degradation and limited availability of non-degraded forest land, aggressive adoption scenarios were built, many of which yielded peak adoption of forest protection by 2030.

Impacts of increased adoption of forest protection from 2020-2050 were generated based on two growth scenarios, which were assessed in comparison to a Reference Scenario where the solution’s market share was fixed at the current levels.

Scenario 1: Analysis of the six custom scenarios under the Scenario 1 results in the protection of 986.4 million hectares of non-degraded forest by 2050.

  • Scenario 2: Under this scenario, 1117.1 million hectares of non-degraded forest are projected to be protected by 2050.

Emissions Model

One-time emissions from deforestation are set to 281.1 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per hectare, based on meta-analysis of 20 data points from 6 sources..

Financial Model

It is assumed that any costs for forest protection (e.g. carbon payments or payment for ecosystem services) are borne at a government or NGO level. Drawdown land solutions only model costs that are incurred at the landowner or manager level.

Integration[5]

Drawdown’s Agro-Ecological Zone model allocates current and projected adoption of solutions to the planet’s forest, grassland, rainfed cropland, and irrigated cropland areas. Forest protection was the fourth priority for use of non-degraded forest, following peatlands, mangrove protection (in the coastal wetlands solution), and indigenous peoples’ land management.

Results

Total adoption in the Scenario 1 is 986.4million hectares in 2050, representing 85 percent of the total available land. Of this, 335.4 million hectares are adopted from 2020-2050. The impact of this scenario is 5.52 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions averted by 2050. Total carbon stock protected is 655.8gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent. Financial impacts are not modeled.

Total adoption in the Scenario 2 is 1117.1 million hectares in 2050, representing 97 percent of the total available land. Of this, 466.1 million hectares are adopted from 2020-2050. The impact of this scenario is 8.75 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2050. Total carbon stock protected is 742.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent. Financial impacts are not modeled.

Discussion

Benchmarks

Annual emissions from tropical deforestation are estimated at 0.8-0.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year, from 8.5 million hectares of deforestation (International Sustainability Unit, 2015). This benchmark is imperfect, as Drawdown includes temperate and boreal forests (not just tropical), and includes only protected forests, not emissions from non-protected forests. The Drawdown figure also excludes mangroves and forested peatlands. Griscom et al (2017)’s “Natural climate solutions” calculates an annual impact from “avoided forest conversion” of 1.82-3.60 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in 2030. It is not clear if their figure includes avoided land use from demand reduction, or only forest protection. Note that Food sector solutions reduced food waste and plant-rich diet also incorporate substantial avoided land use change emissions not accounted for here. The Drawdown model shows 0.23-0.37 gigatons carbon dioxide-equivalent per year by 2030 for indigenous peoples’ forest tenure and 0.15-0.26 for forest protection, for a combined 0.38-0.63 gigatons carbon dioxide-equivalent per year in 2030.

Limitations

This solution does not model avoided deforestation from agricultural intensification or reduced food demand due to diet change or food waste reduction. Inclusion of economic impacts, e.g. costs to governments and NGOs, would be a valuable addition to future updates.

Conclusions

Forests are cleared for timber extraction, for firewood, and to prepare new farmland, among other reasons. Several Drawdown solutions offset the loss of these yields to some degree. Tree plantation and bamboo produce timber. Clean cookstoves helps reduce the need for firewood through adoption of efficient stoves. And abandoned farmland restoration brings abandoned farmland back into production, reducing the need to clear land. Plant-rich diet and reduced food waste lower food demand and thus the need for forest clearing, as do population solutions educating girls and family planning.

Climate activists have made "keep it in the ground" a slogan in regards to fossil carbon like oil and coal. Climate mitigation requires us to keep forest carbon in the ground.

 

[1] To learn more about the Total Land Area for the Land Use Sector, click the Sector Summary: Land Use link below.

[2] Determining the total available land for a solution is a two-part process. The technical potential is based on suitability of climate, soils, slopes, and degraded or non-degraded status. In the second stage, land is allocated using the Drawdown Agroecological Zone model, based on priorities for each class of land. The total land allocated for each solution is capped at the solution’s maximum adoption in the Optimum scenario. Thus, in most cases the total available land is less than the technical potential.

[3] Current adoption is defined as the amount of functional demand supplied by the solution in the base year of study. This study uses 2018 as the base year due to the availability of global adoption data for all Project Drawdown solutions evaluated.

[4] To learn more about Project Drawdown’s three growth scenarios, click the Scenarios link below. For information on Land Use Sector-specific scenarios, click the Sector Summary: Land Use link.

[5] For more on Project Drawdown’s Land Use integration model, click the Sector Summary: Land Use link below.