Biodiversity

People-first approach to conservation with Cool Earth

Tropical rainforests are the most advanced carbon-capturing tech on the planet. Protecting rainforests is vital for tackling the climate crisis, and a people-first approach is at the heart of the solution.  

Words:
Charlotte Cameron
Images:
Shutterstock
Biodiversity rainforest conservation
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Put simply, rainforests cool the earth, and protecting them can provide 23% of climate mitigation that is urgently needed to cool our planet.  

That is why Planet Mark partner Cool Earth is working to back, support and listen to the indigenous peoples and local communities that have lived in balance with rainforests for thousands of years.  

Planet Mark members have been supporting Cool Earth to back people to protect rainforests and fight the climate crisis for over ten years. Money from every business certification at Planet Mark fuels direct action in one of the biggest rainforest carbon sinks on Earth. It supports the Asháninka in their work as the stewards of 60,000 hectares of the Peruvian Amazon – that’s over 13,400 Wembley Stadiums put together! 

Why rainforests?

Despite covering less than 2% of Earth’s surface, tropical rainforests are vital carbon sinks that regulate our climate.  

They act as carbon sinks through sucking up more carbon dioxide than they produce, helping to regulate some of the CO in the atmosphere. A substantial amount of carbon is stored in parts of woody biomass like roots and trunks.  

They are also home to 50% of the world’s biodiversity with an estimated three to 50 million species living in them. 

“Thanks to its canopy structure, rainforests provides an abundance of places for plants to grow and animals to live. The canopy offers sources of food, shelter, and hiding places, providing for interaction between different species.” 

In fact, a single teaspoon of soil in the Amazon rainforest can contain as many as 1,800 microscopic life forms. A single bush in the Amazon may have more species of ants than the entire British Isles.  

“Biodiversity is an ally against the climate crisis. It is a marker of resilience in rainforests and its health and ability to capture carbon. Healthy biodiversity is good news for the people that live in rainforests, who rely on it for livelihoods, food, medicine.” Dr Hannah Peck, Deputy Director at Cool Earth said.  

The threat to rainforests

Despite their significance in tackling the climate crisis, forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.  

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations, we have lost around a billion acres of forest since 1990. In 2020 alone, destruction in the Amazon region rose by 21%, an area the size of Israel.  

The main threat to these vital ecosystems is commodity-driven deforestation, through demand for minerals, fossil fuels or agricultural products, but tropical forests have also been affected by fires that have intensified over recent years.  

Even without the fires and deforestation, rising temperatures and droughts has meant that the south-eastern Amazon has become a source of CO. In fact, parts of the Amazon rainforest are now emitting more carbon dioxide than they can absorb, with the emissions amounting to a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.  

It is imperative rainforest ecosystems are protected from these threats to preserve biodiversity, support communities and stabilise our climate. It is one of the most effective ways we can tackle the climate crisis and at Planet Mark, we believe putting a people-first approach at the heart of the solution is key to achieving this.  

A people-first approach

With 80% of remaining forest biodiversity within indigenous peoples’ territories, it’s clear that biodiversity thrives in the care of these communities.  

“Indigenous people and local communities have always protected rainforests, nurtured it, and kept it healthy for thousands and thousands of years simply by living there. 

Backing the people that live here and recognising and respecting their rights is essential in fighting the climate crisis. Their climate knowledge and rich history of living in rainforests ensure the best carbon sinks on earth can stay that way. “Dr Peck commented. 

People-powered projects

The people-powered projects supported by Cool Earth are tackling a key driver of deforestation: poverty. These projects – sustainable income generation, food security and education – are helping to relieve the pressure from logging companies to sell rainforest.  

“By giving people exactly what they need to thrive in spite of these pressures, rainforests and the carbon stored in it will stay there for thousands of years to come.” Dr Peck says.  

In Mozambique, for example, poverty, extreme weather and global inequality has placed pressure on the forest around Mount Namuli. Cool Earth’s partner Legado helped to deliver permagarden training for the local community, teaching new approaches for smaller agriculture to ensure soil is healthy and fertile.  

These people-powered projects are not only helping to directly protect rainforests, critical to tackling the climate crisis, but are also addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

These are the global goals designed to map out a more sustainable future for all, and their interconnectedness recognises that action in one area affects outcomes in others. Shifting the world onto a sustainable path requires economic, social and environmental transformations that occur in harmony with nature. 

As part of certification, Planet Mark members can directly and measurably contribute to up to nine SDGs addressing 18 SDG targets. By helping to protect rainforests through Cool Earth, the Planet Mark community is supporting: 

Goal 6 – Clean water and sanitation 

Goal 11 – Sustainable cities and communities 

Goal 13 – Climate action

Goal 15 – Life on land

Climate adaption

Cool Earth also works in supporting climate adaption projects. As the climate crisis impacts the lives of rainforest communities more than most, indigenous and local people don’t have any choice but to change their way of life to continue living in and protecting rainforest, so climate adaption is a necessity to survive.  

Some of these projects have included wildfire prevention with Cool Earth’s partnership with Central Asháninka del Río Ene (CARE), installing solar panels to ease pressure on rainforest-sourced firewood, and introducing energy-efficient stoves to improve the health of the rainforest.  

Progress since COP26

One of the big outcomes of COP26 in 2021 saw world leaders agree on a deal to end deforestation by 2030. Despite big pledges, Cool Earth says that no progress has been made: 

“There have been a series of similar initiatives to halt deforestation in the past, all of which have failed… In fact, very little progress at all was made and deforestation targets were not even included in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) running up to COP26.  

So, history suggests this latest commitment is unlikely to be met unless global leaders treat [it] very differently this time round. But at least this time round Brazil and China joined the commitment, which is progress in terms of the big players acknowledging how vital forests are to limiting the climate crisis.” 

So, as we look towards COP27 later this year, what outcomes do Cool Earth hope to see around protecting rainforests? 

“The causes of deforestation are complex and require multiple methods to tackle the threats. The declaration agreed on six shared efforts needed to halt deforestation but no specific details on how these would be met. So, for all the 141 countries, including non-rainforest nations, we want to see them have updated their NDCs to include specific targets of protection of forests. This will change the broad global commitment of halting deforestation into achievable country specific targets that can be measured and implemented by each country. 

Of these, the most important way to see real impact is to create specific and ambitious targets where all countries directly finance people living in the forests and strengthen their land rights.  

Above all else indigenous peoples and local communities need to be at the centre  of the design and implementation of the mechanisms and processes used to halt deforestation by 2030.” Dr Peck said.  

At Planet Mark we believe that people are at the heart of sustainable solutions, that’s why we are partnered with Cool Earth. In our ten years of partnership, our community has been helping to back this people-first approach as the most effective and important way of helping to protect critical rainforest ecosystems. 

Here are four other ways you can help to support rainforests:  

– Support the work of Cool Earth in protecting rainforests through working with indigenous and local communities.  

– Advocate for people/community-led conservation movements. 

– Pressure big businesses to clean up their supply chains from products/services with links to deforestation. 

– Invest your pension pot sustainably.