Wildlife Works launches carbon offset campaign to save forests

We all know the importance of saving threatened forests and reducing our carbon footprint. But do we know how to do so? Wildlife Works may. Its mission: Get out there in front of the chainsaws and stop the harmful destruction of our world’s forests.

As the world’s top Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) project development and management company, Wildlife Works has launched CODE REDD, a new campaign to protect endangered forests around the globe by harnessing private sector financing and selling carbon offsets.

As environmental concern continues to grow, companies worldwide are trying to do their part to lower their carbon emissions. But, as Mike Korchinsky, CEO of Wildlife Works and the creator of the CODE REDD campaign, notes, it is impossible to eliminate all emissions. Through this campaign, corporations can easily buy REDD carbon offsets that contribute to high-quality forest conservation efforts while simultaneously offering sustainable development projects to local communities. Korchinsky’s model allows these communities to mitigate the damage caused by their carbon emissions while helping them monetize their forest assets.

As the largest company that uses the carbon marketplace to create conservation programs, Wildlife Works has a pipeline of 16 to 18 projects around the globe. The company attempts to preserve forests that are threatened by industries such as logging and cattle farming for a minimum of 20 years by creating positive economic solutions for communities and landowners, creating incentive to conserve forests rather than destroy them.

“The primary purpose of the campaign is to focus the world’s attention, the corporate world in particular, on what role they can play in protecting the threatened forests of the world while at the same time, reducing their own carbon footprint,” Korchinsky said. “I have yet to see a better model than REDD. It takes into consideration the needs of the community, the needs of biodiversity as well as the needs of forest cultivation. It is a fantastic model because it scales with the scale of the problem.”

REDD is a viable, holistic model for forest conservation, bringing together corporate carbon offset buyers, REDD project developers, indigenous forest owners, national governments, NGOs, verification organizations, standards bodies, market platforms and more to benefit the environment and communities alike.

As Korchinsky notes, it is a fantastic model, but it needs a marketplace. Somebody needs to buy the offsets.

“Everybody – you, me, IBM, Exxon – everybody has a carbon footprint, which has to do with the emissions generated in supporting our lifestyle or supporting our business,” Korchinsky said. “There is no such thing as a zero carbon footprint lifestyle. So if you actually do want to reduce your carbon footprint to zero, then you have to offset whatever is left after you changed your lifestyle practices or your corporate practices … with emission reductions that are happening somewhere else.”

When an organization builds a solar energy power plant, it creates offsets because it produces electricity with lower emissions. These offsets can be sold to companies seeking a lower carbon impact.

For example, a company emits 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide in a year. After cleaning up its practices, it is able to reduce that figure to 150,000, a vast improvement but still a substantial impact. That business may buy 150,000 tons worth of offsets from a project developer that makes emission reductions.

All credits are tracked and registered in an international registry database. After an emission is purchased, it is retired. Only one company may retire an emission.

“The idea is that the clean atmosphere is an environmental commons,” Korchinsky said. “It is a resource for everyone. And like any resource, water, power, it is a resource that should have a price tag with it to ensure that it is shared out fairly. But it doesn’t currently have a price tag associated with it, which means companies have historically been able to emit more than their fair share without having to pay a penalty.”

Korchinsky believes the task must be to put a price tag on clean air. That price should become part of the cost of doing business.

Carbon credits can be bought both voluntarily or to comply with regulations. Far too many companies fail to take the cost to the environment into account unless they are operating under a compliance scheme. Many others, however, are willing to take on responsibility without being required. Companies who take voluntary action are often prompted by the marketing value, hoping to lure customers on the basis of their socially conscious action.

Commending companies that are voluntarily “stepping up to do the right thing,” Korchinsky says these organizations “are recognizing that at some point … this is a finite resource that needs to be protected for the worst aspects of climate change not to occur. So they are getting ahead of regulations and saying they want to do their bit to reduce their impact on the environment.”

Natural forests are disappearing at a shocking pace, about 13 million hectares per year, and deforestation causes approximately 17 percent of yearly international greenhouse gas emissions. This dramatic forest destruction is posing a serious threat to the resources humankind needs to survive, making forest conservation critical to achieve climate stability.

A tree is 50 percent carbon. When a tree is burned, it is a double loss. Not only is the tree’s ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere lost, but the carbon stored in trees is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse gas effect and climate change.

“There are 6 billion tons of emissions each year coming from loss of forests, which is larger than any other industrial sector, so the destruction of forests around the world is causing more climate change than any other single factor. So the solution needs to be a big solution and not just one little company in California. The idea behind the campaign is to take us as a model so that it can be done, but then it needs to be done on a much larger scale,” Korchinsky said.

Working together with communities, indigenous peoples and governments, Wildlife Works creates protection projects such as the flagship Kasigau Corridor REDD project in Kenya, which aims to preserve a key corridor between two national parks. Subsistence farmers attempting to eke out an existence on the dry land there have resorted to slash and burn farming to create new land, threatening to cut off the corridor and destroy the wildlife it supports.

“(We wanted) to demonstrate to the community that they could get much more value by leaving the corridor intact and benefitting from the carbon offset value of protecting the forest rather than turning it into very dry farmland in a very dry area,” Korchinsky said. “(We aim) to generate as many benefits as we can to that community so that they continue to see the value in protecting that forest corridor rather than destroying it.”

Since the effort’s inception two years ago, Wildlife Works has managed to distribute more than half a million dollars into the surrounding communities for development projects, clean water, education and even a new factory to employ local residents.

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LadyLUX via istock, Wildlife Works

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