As the world grapples with the impacts of climate change, Afforestation, Reforestation, and Revegetation (ARR) projects have emerged as promising nature-based solutions. These projects involve planting trees or vegetation to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while providing multiple environmental and social benefits. The Global Carbon Sequestration Potential of ARR projects is estimated to be 0.1-6.1 tCO2e/ha/year (1). To date, ARR projects have contributed roughly 56 million tons of carbon to the Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM) (equaling roughly 8% of all forest projects) (2). However, developing an effective ARR project requires careful planning and execution. This article summarises the main steps for successful ARR project development, from site selection to carbon accounting and certification.
Defining the project objectives
Before entering the Project Development phase, one should identify the project objectives. They should be clear, measurable, and aligned with local and national policies and guidelines.
The project objectives could include:
- restoring degraded lands
- improving carbon sequestration
- conserving biodiversity
- providing economic opportunities for communities, and
- reducing the impacts of direct climate change
It is essential to consult with local communities, stakeholders, and experts to ensure the project objectives are relevant and achievable.
The steps in ARR project development
1. Project Design and Implementation
This initial phase can last up to 2 years. It involves higher delivery risk – i.e., the risk that the project does not deliver the intended climate impact. Supporting project development with an experienced team with a successful carbon delivery track record and considerable capital investment can mitigate the risk.
- Feasibility Assessment is the first step in developing an ARR project. This assessment involves estimating the potential for carbon sequestration, identifying the appropriate land for the project, assessing its risks and benefits, and estimating the cost of implementation. A team of experts, including ecologists, economists, and social scientists, should conduct the feasibility assessment
- Project Design and Financing can begin once the feasibility assessment is complete. Developing a detailed plan for the project, identifying potential funding sources, and securing financing are the main steps in this stage. The project design should also include a detailed description of the activities, timelines, and expected outcomes. Also, it must entail a risk management strategy and stakeholder engagement plans
- Project Development Document (PDD) Preparation: The next step is to prepare the project development document (PDD). This document outlines the project design, including the carbon sequestration potential, the project boundary, and the monitoring plan
- Site Selection and Land Preparation, which involves identifying suitable land for the project and preparing the site for planting
- Species Selection and Planting, which involves selecting the right tree species and planting them in the right way to maximize carbon sequestration
- Carbon Accounting and Certification, which ensures the project’s design and implementation comply with relevant standards and methodologies.
2. Project Validation and Registration
This phase spans up to 5 years from the start of the project. There is high to medium risk, which can be contractually mitigated to reduce volume and pricing risk. If the verification fails, investors may be entitled to request replacement carbon credits from other projects from the developer.
- Project Validation can start after preparing the PDD. Validation involves an independent assessment of the project design to ensure that it meets the requirements of the chosen standard. It also includes a review of the project documentation, an on-site visit, and stakeholder consultation
- Project Registration is possible after validating the project by selecting a suitable and preferred standard. The registration process involves submitting the validated PDD along with other required documentation to the standard body. Once registered, the project can begin generating carbon credits
- Monitoring and Maintenance, which involves collecting data on carbon sequestration and ensuring that the project is well-maintained
- Carbon Accounting and Certification, which ensures that the project has been properly validated and verified.
3. Project Monitoring and Verification
The typical live timeline of a forestry project varies from 10 to 30 years. The delivery risk can be considered medium to low, depending on the specific terms and attributes of the project.
- Project Monitoring involves tracking the project activities and their impact on carbon sequestration. Monitoring is critical for measuring the carbon sequestration potential and tracking the project activities to ensure they are consistent with the chosen methodology and the PDD. The monitoring plan should be designed to detect and address any potential issues that may arise
- Project Verification is undergone once the monitoring period is complete. The verification involves an independent assessment of the monitoring data to ensure that the project is generating the expected amount of carbon credits. The verification process includes reviewing the monitoring data, on-site visits, and stakeholder consultation
- Carbon Credit Issuance is possible only once the project is verified. Enterprises that want to compensate for their hard-to-abate and residual carbon emissions can buy the carbon credits. The project owner can then use the revenue generated from the sale of carbon credits to finance the project and provide additional benefits to the local community
- Species Selection and Planting may also be important during this phase, as it may be necessary to replant trees if some of them die or suffer any damage
- Monitoring and Maintenance, which ensure that the project continues to sequester carbon over time
- Carbon Accounting and Certification, which ensure that the project continues to meet relevant standards and methodologies.
The key 4 ARR success factors
What are the four aspects that can contribute to the effective development of an ARR project with great co-benefits?
- Reforesting with multiple native tree species can help create a more resilient ecosystem better equipped to withstand natural disturbances such as storms, pests, and diseases. Species variety can also help maximize carbon sequestration by ensuring that different species are capturing carbon from different parts of the ecosystem. Additionally, planting a diverse mix of tree species can help to support a variety of wildlife and improve the overall ecological health of the area
- Using organic or natural fertilizers, such as compost or manure, can help to improve soil health and nutrient availability for the newly planted trees. Natural fertilizers can increase the growth rate and overall health of the trees, leading to higher carbon sequestration rates. Using organic or natural fertilizers can also help avoid the negative environmental impacts associated with synthetic fertilizers
- Planting fruit species, such as mango or avocado trees, can provide multiple benefits. In addition to sequestering carbon, fruit trees are a source of income for local communities through fruit commercialization. This additional source of income can help create economic incentives for the long-term maintenance and management of the reforestation project. Fruit trees can also provide a habitat and food for wildlife, further enhancing the project’s ecological value
- Controlling and removing exotic and invading species, which can outcompete native species, prevents the reduction of the overall effectiveness of the reforestation project. Controlling these species through manual removal, herbicide treatments, or other management strategies can help ensure the project’s success. Additionally, removing these species can help restore the natural balance of the ecosystem and improve the overall ecological health of the area
Summing up, Afforestation, Reforestation, and Revegetation (ARR) projects offer a powerful tool for mitigating climate change, restoring degraded land, and promoting sustainable development. By following the key steps for effective project development, such as site selection, species selection, planting, monitoring, maintenance, and carbon accounting and certification, ARR projects can deliver a range of benefits for both people and the planet. With the urgent need to address climate change, ARR projects offer a vital opportunity to create a more sustainable future for all.
The pros and cons of ARR
In comparison to other carbon project types, ARR projects offer several advantages in terms of carbon sequestration potential, multiple co-benefits, and cost-effectiveness. However, they also face challenges such as long-term commitment, permanence risk, and additionality. It is essential to carefully evaluate the benefits and risks of different carbon project types and choose the most appropriate one based on specific circumstances and goals. Here are some pros and cons of the ARR project:
- Carbon sequestration: ARR projects can sequester a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Trees and other vegetation absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and store it in their biomass and soil. As a result, ARR projects have the potential to remove significant amounts of carbon, making them an effective tool to combat climate change
- Multiple co-benefits: ARR projects not only mitigate climate change but also provide other co-benefits such as biodiversity conservation, soil conservation, water conservation, and socio-economic benefits to local communities. Forests and other ecosystems provide habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species, protect watersheds, prevent soil erosion, and provide livelihoods for local communities through activities such as agroforestry and eco-tourism
- Cost-effectiveness: ARR projects are often more cost-effective than other carbon projects, such as renewable energy or energy efficiency projects. The cost per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) sequestered by ARR projects is typically lower than that of other project types, making them an attractive option for carbon credit buyers
- Long-term commitment: ARR projects require a long-term commitment, as it can take years or even decades for trees to grow and sequester significant amounts of carbon. As a result, ARR projects may not be suitable for those looking for immediate carbon reductions
- Permanence risk: ARR projects face the risk of reversals, where the carbon stored in trees and soil is released back into the atmosphere due to natural disasters such as wildfires, droughts, and pests or human activities such as deforestation and land-use change. This poses a challenge to the long-term credibility of carbon credits generated by ARR projects
- Additionality: Like any carbon project, ARR projects need to demonstrate additionality, which means that the carbon reductions or removals would not have occurred without the project’s intervention. This can be challenging for ARR projects, as planting trees or restoring forests may be a natural response to degraded landscapes or a regulatory requirement in some jurisdictions
- IPCC (2019). Special Report on Climate Change and Land. Chapter 4: Land Degradation, Desertification, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems. https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/chapter/chapter-4/
- Ivy S. So, Barbara K. Haya, Micah Elias. (2023, January). Voluntary Registry Offsets Database v7.1, Berkeley Carbon Trading Project, University of California (Berkley) https://gspp.berkeley.edu/faculty-and-impact/centers/cepp/projects/berkeley-carbon-trading-project/offsets-database