Bloomberg — An area the size of Switzerland, made of protected trees.
That’s the plan being hatched by a group of six companies that includes the world’s largest pulp producer Suzano and Spanish retail-banking giant Santander. More specifically, they’re proposing to plant and preserve a total of 4 million hectares (15,000 square miles) of trees in deforested parts of Brazil, financing the project by selling carbon offset credits on the voluntary market.
The companies involved — Suzano (SUZB3), Santander, Brazilian bank Itaú (ITUB4), the Netherlands’ Rabobank, Brazilian mining company Vale (VALE3) and Brazilian meatpacker Marfrig (MRFG3) — are creating a new company called Biomas, which will start by identifying areas that have suffered from deforestation, including in the Amazon, the Mata Atlantica rainforest and the savanna area of Cerrado. Each partner will invest Real 20 million ($3.8 million).
Biomas plans to rely on the experience of Brazilian companies that already run massive eucalyptus farms. Suzano and its peers, for example, plant more than a million eucalyptus trees a day, although many are later harvested. By 2025, the group expects to start hiring workers and establishing tree nurseries, where seedlings will be planted before moving to the fields. They aim to plant more than 2 billion native trees across 2 million hectares, while investing in the conservation of another 2 million hectares of native forests. The work is expected to take 20 years.
Deforestation came up repeatedly in the first week of COP27, as some climate-vulnerable countries demand restrictions on products that cause it and others seek compensation for protecting their own forests. The Amazon, where deforestation reached a record high in the first half of 2022, is one of the world’s major climate tipping points, creating an urgent need to address the problem. Scientists say that putting a trillion more trees on the planet could dramatically curtail emissions, and several pledges exist to tackle that goal, including a trillion-tree initiative from the World Economic Forum, and the Bonn Challenge, a commitment by multiple countries and companies to plant 350 million hectares of trees by 2030.
But growing these farms and verifying that they are making a difference in the fight against global warming won’t be easy. Some trees never mature, or even make it into the ground. And large-scale initiatives require the right mix of resilient species and proper protections against agroforestry, as well as an equitable choice of locations. Others have tried and failed to sidestep these challenges, in some cases undermining the wider integrity of carbon offsets. One study of the Bonn Challenge, for example, found that most of the pledged area would be used for monoculture forests or agroforestry, rather than restoration.
Biomas expects to finance its project with the sale of carbon credits, and is looking to turn a profit on the forestry projects. It’s unclear exactly how much the group expects the initiative to cost. According to one study led by WRI Brasil and The New Climate Economy, it would cost at least Real 19 billion ($3.5 billion) to restore 12 million hectares of forest in the most deteriorated areas in Brazil. Depending on the locations Biomas chooses, that could put the price tag on its planting goals alone close to $500 million.
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