deforestation continues, threatening biodiversity and
spewing carbon into the atmosphere, an unlikely potential
savior has emerged. Fearing that governments arent moving
fast enough, environmental nonprofits and project development
firms hope the
aviation industry will fly to the rescue by purchasing
This is potentially the deal of the century,
contends zoologist Andrew Mitchell, founder and director of
Global Canopy Programme, an Oxford, Englandbased think
tank devoted to preserving tropical forests. Not so fast, say
some other environmentalists, who worry that the big polluters
in air transportation will get off the hook too easily.
Russia to the U.S., deforestation is a serious problem.
Between 1990 and 2015 the share of the worlds land under
forest cover declined from 31.6 percent to 30.6 percent, the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
reports. It may not sound like a big drop, but the total
woodland lost during that period is nearly the size of
With the help of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate
Change, the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and
Forest Degradation) program launched in 2008. Two years later
the program, which reimburses countries for preserving their
forests, was expanded to REDD+, whose mandate includes
conservation and sustainable management as well as carbon
emissions reduction. Since then a private market for REDD+
credits has arisen, with project developers selling them to
finance sustainable-farming ventures and other conservation
But the REDD+ market is largely voluntary: Most purchasers
are companies that use the offsets to meet self-imposed
corporate social responsibility goals. As a result,
its hardly awash in capital, even though REDD+ credits
are the most popular voluntary carbon offset, accounting for
about half of the markets volume in 2014, according to
Forest Trends, a Washingtonbased nonprofit that promotes
forest conservation. The broader voluntary carbon market
remains tiny, with a value of just $395 million that year.
The aviation industry could provide a much-needed jolt. In
October the 191-nation International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO) Assembly will agree on its first set of
market-based measures to address climate change, with the aim
of achieving carbon-neutral growth starting in 2020.
Thats a worthy target: If the aviation industry were
its own country, it would be a top-ten emitter of carbon
dioxide, according to the Parisbased International Energy
Agency. In 2013 fuel combustion by aircraft produced 798
million metric tons of the greenhouse gas, about 2.5 percent of
the global total from combustion and slightly more than No.
6ranked Germanys output. If the industry stays on
its current course, carbon emissions from aviation will grow
between 300 and 400 percent by 2050, Brusselsbased Carbon
Market Watch estimates.
The ICAOs emissions reduction plan will probably
require individual airlines to buy offsets for each ton of
carbon emitted above a certain threshold. Global Canopy
Programmes Mitchell hopes that REDD+ credits will be on
the menu of options. The scale of demand that could come
from aviation will far exceed any other demand thats
currently on the table for REDD+, he says.
Right now REDD+ demand only accounts for about 3 percent of
the estimated supply that would be available in a robust forest
credits market, Mitchell adds. Without a major compliance
market like the European Union Emissions Trading System
requiring companies to purchase the offsets, or a secondary
market for selling them, REDD+ credits will go for whatever
they can fetch from a voluntary buyer.
The impacts of the depressed REDD+ market arent
limited to abstract offset prices, notes Edit Kiss, director of
business development and operations at Althelia Ecosphere, a
100 million ($115 million), Londonbased investment
firm focused on sustainable land use. Theyre also being
felt in forests.
The sad reality is that today, we have so many
projects that have started, communities are waiting for the
money to flow, and the money is not flowing, says Kiss,
whose firm finances REDD+ enterprises. There are lots of
projects, and they are struggling to sell their credits on a
voluntary basis. A member of the Londonbased
Climate Markets and Investment Associations REDD+ working
group, Kiss co-authored an April policy paper recommending that
the ICAO adopt REDD+ credits.
Michael Schneider, assistant director of the
Montrealheadquartered International Air Transport
Associations carbon offset program, says he believes his
industry should include REDD+ in its basket of acceptable
offsets. But Genevabased Schneider points out that
airlines have gotten pushback from environmental nonprofits
that say the ICAOs goals arent ambitious enough,
and that an offset scheme involving REDD+ would simply shift
carbon-emitting permissions, not slash carbon emissions.
Offsetting is a distraction for aviation, argues
Hannah Mowat, forests and climate campaigner with Fern, a
Brusselsbased nongovernmental organization that tracks
European Union involvement in forests. In Mowats view,
improving the energy efficiency of jet engines and finding ways
to fly less are more urgent matters.
Kiss, who says shes frustrated by
environmentalists push to steer aviation away from REDD+,
accuses them of missing the point. Offsetting should be
viewed as a transitional tool, she asserts. Nobody
thinks they should be the end objective.