New Carbon Tracking Tool For Trees Has Your (Exact) Number

A new organization called CTrees is launching a satellite-based carbon tracker that can measure the carbon in trees with pinpoint accuracy. By “trees” they don’t mean forests, or stands, or any other cluster of trees. They mean every single, individual tree on the entire planet. Finally, policymakers and other stakeholders will get their hands on some hard data behind all those big tree-planting plans being shopped around these days.

Calling All Trees

Verification is the key issue for carbon markets. It’s difficult to gain trust among investors and the public at large when all you can offer is ambitious but vague promises about saving the planet from climate catastrophe, by planting trees.

As a non-profit organization, CTrees aims to provide a stakeholder-neutral, open source platform that holds those promises to a more down-to-earth accounting practices.

“To date, poor carbon accounting practices have accelerated concerns around transparency and integrity,” CTrees noted in a press release last week, adding that “CTrees will also support stakeholders engaged in the carbon market, including investors, project developers, and regulators, who continue to grapple with questions over the true carbon emissions reduction potential of forest investments and how to accurately account for the carbon which is traded.”

“CTrees’ consistent global dataset provides a nearly real-time picture of the carbon implications of forest conservation and restoration at the local, national, and global level, ensuring results from efforts to reach global climate targets can be accurately reported,” they emphasized.

Trees To The Rescue

CTrees’s pedigree includes an R&D background spanning more than 20 years, spearheaded by the US team of Dr. Sassan Saatchi (of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), along with teams from Brazil, Denmark, and France.

The organization already has the national and jurisdictional forest data in hand. The digital platform will be available in November with the launch timed for COP27 in Glasgow, with operational use beginning early next year.

If you’re looking to dig into the data, visit them at

They are certainly going to have their hands full, as tree-planting initiatives pile up one after the other. Check out the CleanTechnica tree-planting archive, and it’s clear that more and better data is sorely needed.

One problematic aspect of these large-scale tree planting programs is illustrated by the One Trillion Trees initiative of the World Economic Forum.

The big trillion number caught the eye of former President Trump, who signed the US onto the Trillion Trees Initiative at its launch in January 2020. “We’re also honoring our country’s heritage of conservation through the One Trillion Tree Initiative, which is a very big deal,” he said during an Earth Day tree-planting ceremony that year.

That would be the same former President who pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and worked to delay the development of the nation’s copious offshore wind resources, among other anti-climate actions.

Trump also appointed three ultra-conservative justices to the US Supreme Court, setting up a 6-3 Republican super-majority that continues to undermine federal action on climate change long after he was voted out of office.

Carbon Markets & Greenwashing

With hard data in hand, the CTrees platform should help make elected officials like Trump, as well as private sector stakeholders, think twice before using trees to greenwash their anti-climate activities.

To be clear, greenwashing will most likely continue, but at the very least CTrees will put reliable, comparative data in the hands of ESG investors as well as public sector policymakers.

Ctrees cited Dr. Lee White, Gabon’s Minister for Forests, Sea, the Environment and Climate Change, to emphasize the role of reliable data.

“As we transition to a post-Glasgow regulated market for REDD+ or net sequestration, it is critical we have high quality, independent measurements, based on the best science, to ensure that we have the transparency and integrity we need and markets are confident that they are getting exactly what they pay for,” said Dr. White.

That hard data could make a significant difference, especially now that cryptocurrency mining has demonstrated the potential for new industries to suck up renewable energy resources, and to revive fossil energy resources that were previously scheduled for retirement.

Trees or no trees, the Biden administration has already targeted crypto mining for action in federal climate policy. With CTrees operational, it will be all the more difficult for crypto miners to make their case for sustainability.

Wait, What Is REDD+?

Climate advocates who are leery about the whole idea of carbon markets can take their case to Glasgow. Meanwhile, that ship has already sailed. The REDD+ program cited by Dr. White is one reason why.

REDD+ is a forest conservation initiative under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, with the “plus” emphasizing conservation and sustainable forest management.

“[REDD+] aims at the implementation of activities by national governments to reduce human pressure on forests that result in greenhouse gas emissions at the national level, but as an interim measure also recognizes subnational implementation,” UNFCCC explains.

“The implementation of REDD+ activities is voluntary and depends on the national circumstances, capacities and capabilities of each developing country and the level of support received,” UNFCCC adds.

That may sound like weak tea, but with private sector stakeholders on the prowl for more trees, the opportunities abound. That’s especially relevant for leading corporate citizens that profess to support the Paris Agreement.

“REDD+ is also recognized in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, where Parties re-iterated the encouragement to implement REDD+ activities, and that these should be an integral element of the Paris Agreement. Therefore, the WFR is a foundation for Parties engaged in REDD+ to fulfill the highest level of commitment to climate actions in the forest sector,” UNFCCC emphasizes.

Follow The Money … To More Trees

REDD+ is a voluntary program, but that doesn’t mean there are no rewards. Nations that fall under the developing country category stand to  receive “results-based finance for results-based actions,” so long as the results meet reporting standards.

In addition to carbon reporting, participants must conform to community safeguards and provide forest monitoring information.

Transparency is also written into the program, which means you can check out the participating nations at the Lima Information Hub for REDD+. More details are available at the UNFCCC REDD+ Web Platform.

If all goes according to plan, CTrees will step the transparency factor up to the next level. That’s going to become more important as REDD+ continues to mature and face new challenges.

One emerging issue, for example, is the carbon benefit of reforestation compared to preserving existing forests. Last week Norway and Indonesia re-upped their ongoing REDD+ partnership after a brief interruption last year, but Greenpeace has blasted the new agreement for enabling deforestation to continue.

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Carbon sequestration in trees in California (courtesy of Ctrees).


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