Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Frequently Asked Questions - Ecosystem Services

Many of the most common questions that the Ecosystem Services team receives are answered here. However, if there are questions that remain unanswered please use our contact page to ask the Ecosystem Services team a question or visit our main World Land Trust FAQs page.
Link to Business specific FAQs

General FAQs

  1. Is climate change really happening?
  2. What is offsetting?
  3. What is Carbon Sequestration?
  4. Offsetting doesn't address the issue of the emissions in the first place. Aren't reductions of emissions at source the answer?
  5. What is Restoration Ecology?
  6. What is the difference between avoided deforestation, woodland rehabilitation, assisted natural regeneration and tree-planting?
  7. Is preserving mature habitat through avoided deforestation better in terms of carbon offsetting than planting new trees?
  8. Are WLT ecosystem services projects independently verified?
  9. Why do you not design projects to meet the well known WWF Gold Standard?
  10. How does WLT feel about the Defra Voluntary Code of Practice?
  11. Offsetting through WLT can be more expensive than other offset providers. Why?
  12. How do WLT make sure their offset calculations are accurate?
  13. Where do WLT projects take place?
  14. What is WLT's position on tree planting in temperate climates for the provision of offsets?
  15. Do you own the land where the planting and restoration takes place?
  16. How do you protect this area of land / tropical forest from being destroyed?
  17. How many mature trees are saved per acre of land purchased through the WLT Carbon Balanced programme?
  18. How much of a tree's stored carbon would be released by either felling or burning?
  19. How much carbon dioxide does an acre of rainforest absorb?
  20. How long would you expect a newly planted tree to contribute as a carbon sink?
  21. Surely Carbon Balanced projects just sell the same pieces of land over and over again?
  22. When WLT protects an area of land, what precautions are taken to ensure that the destructive activities are not just displaced elsewhere?
  23. Is the Carbon Balanced programme a money-making initiative by the World Land Trust?
  24. What makes Carbon Balanced different to all the other offset providers on the market?
  25. What is the WLT's position regarding biofuels from monoculture plantations established at the expense of forest?
  26. Can I just make a straight donation to an Ecosystem Services project rather than calculate my exact offset?

1. Is climate change really happening?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has very high confidence (i.e. is more than 90% certain) that climate change is happening and that this is mostly due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. A few scientists are wary of assigning such a high degree of confidence and point to significant uncertainty in aspects of the evidence underpinning the IPCC assessment reports. A good place to read about some of this inherent uncertanty in the science can be found at the ClimateEtc web site, created by the climate scientist Professor Judith Curry. The widespread concensus among climate scientists, who believe that uncertanties do not undermine the need for urgent action, is reflected in the RealClimate web site, maintained by NASA scientist Gavin Schmit. To find out more, see our climate change page.

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2. What is offsetting?

The idea behind offsetting is that even when all steps have been taken by a given entity (say a firm, charity or individual) to reduce emissions at source, some residual greenhouse gas emissions are unavoidable. These emissions can be countered if one takes steps to avert emissions elsewhere - i.e. to offset them. The WLT Carbon Balanced programme produce these offsets through the protection of forests that are imminently threatened, the destruction of which would release greenhouse gases, and through the restoration of forest habitats, which sequester atmospheric carbon as they grow.

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3. What is Carbon Sequestration?

Carbon sequestration is the uptake and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by carbon ‘sinks’. Approximately half the mass of a tree is carbon, making forests terrestrial carbon sinks. Forest vegetation absorb atmospheric CO2 and lock the carbon in their tissues while they are growing, retaining it in their biomass. Soil organic matter, derived from dead plant and animal material, is also an important store of carbon. A variable portion of this stocked carbon is, however, released if the forest vegetation is cut down and if soils are disturbed. Forest clearance is in fact responsible for 20% of the global carbon dioxide emissions, more than the combined global emissions of cars, boats and planes.

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4. Offsetting doesn't address the issue of the emissions in the first place! Aren't reductions of emissions at source the answer?

We agree completely and the first step, both for individuals and businesses, should be to reduce emissions at source as much as possible. Our reduce your carbon footprint page gives recommended sources of advice for individuals and our reduce your emissions pages gives sources for businesses. However, though offsetting should not be used to escape reductions at source, it should be used alongside them as part of a complete and effective response to reducing CO2 concentrations.

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5. What is Restoration Ecology?

Restoration Ecology is concerned with the rehabilitation of cleared and degraded habitat. WLT Ecosystem Services projects are specifically designed to benefit biodiversity and use a mixture of avoided deforestation, planting and assisted natural regeneration techniques to protect and re-establish critically endangered habitat. In practically all cases WLT restoration ecology projects are used to extend, buffer or connect existing reserves.

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6. What is the difference between avoided deforestation, woodland rehabilitation, assisted natural regeneration and tree-planting?

Avoided deforestation is the protection of forest which is under the imminent threat of clearance. Through this protection the carbon dioxide emissions which would have been released to the atmosphere through combustion and decomposition are prevented. Woodland rehabilitation involves removing the factors – e.g. grazing cattle, fire, logging or woodcutting – that are degrading forest cover. Assisted natural regeneration takes place where the land has already been completely cleared, consisting of removing the constraints preventing re-establishment of natural vegetation. All this involves boosting self-sown trees – we now prefer to plant native trees only where assisted natural regeneration would not be successful or would benefit from enrichment – e.g. on eroded soils or where natural seed sources are distant.

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7. Is preserving mature habitat through avoided deforestation better in terms of carbon offsetting than planting new trees?

Both avoided deforestation and planting techniques are equally important. The destruction of mature forest is responsible for 20% of the global carbon dioxide emissions, more than the cumulative global emissions of cars, boats and planes. It is better for biodiversity to preserve existing habitat rather than trying to recreate it, which is why the Carbon Balanced programme strongly promotes avoided deforestation as part of its projects. However, in some parts of the world the land is so degraded that restoration through tree planting is critical. In practice we combine all the techniques needed to protect and restore a given parcel of forest – this obviously means restoring what has already been cleared through planting supplementing natural regeneration as well as protecting what forest still remains.

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8. Are WLT Ecosystem Services projects independently verified?

WLT is committed to transparency in all elements of project design. All WLT Ecosystem Services carbon offsetting projects are designed according to the exacting principles of the internationally recognised Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard. This standard is well-suited to our projects, being specifically devised for the voluntary market, and in particular, projects with wider-ranging biodiversity and local community objectives. Carbon Balanced projects address in full the principles behind the CCB guidance. However, we actively choose not to submit these smaller projects for independent certification due to the costs involved, and the limitations to our flexibility and innovation in project design that certification would bring. The larger Validated REDD+ projects are designed and submitted for validation under the CCB Standard. Methodologies for carbon sequestration approved under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) are used in the design of emissions offsetting elements of WLT carbon sequestration projects.

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9. Why do you not design projects to meet the well known WWF Gold Standard?

We cannot design projects to meet the WWF Gold Standard as this is not applicable to reforestation projects. The CCB standard is specifically designed to meet the type of work WLT carries out.

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10. How does WLT feel about the Defra Voluntary Code of Practice?

WLT agrees that the carbon offset market has suffered from a lack of clarity and quality in the provision of some offset projects. We too are in favour of protecting consumers and this is why we make every effort to ensure our Ecosystem Services projects are transparent. However, WLT feel that while the proposed code is expressed as being voluntary, its effects are likely to be comparable to a regulated market. Our main concerns are that set guidelines could stifle innovation and that meeting them would add transaction costs, disfavouring small scale actions and organisations.

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11. Carbon Balanced offsetting through WLT can be more expensive than other offset providers. Why?

WLT use Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs approved conversion factors, however, other offset providers may use different figures in their offset calculations. This can affect the final offset figure and therefore the price. Our aim is to restore and protect critically threatened habitat through the provision of carbon dioxide offsets. The cost of delivering an offset through forestry-based work varies widely depending on its location, the land price, the scale and work involved, and the strictness of the monitoring regime. WLT’s Carbon Balanced Programme began in 2005 and since then we have revised the price of the work as new projects have been developed, keeping the costs as low as possible, while giving the best conservation value. The price of £15 per tonne of CO2 is not the cheapest on the market but does allow us to maximise the biodiversity conservation value across our project portfolio. Savings in scale mean prices can be cheaper for corporates seeking to cover 5000 tCO2 p.a. and above.

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12. How do WLT make sure their offset calculations are accurate?

WLT uses Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs approved conversion factors, as a reliable and readily identifiable data source.

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13. Where do WLT projects take place?

Our Carbon Balanced projects are predominantly based in Ecuador, with a minority of offsets delivered at the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, Mexico. Other Ecosystem Services projects are operate in Brazil, Paraguay, Tanzania and India and we are continually looking to expand the portfolio.

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14. What is WLT's position on tree planting in temperate climates for the provision of offsets?

The scientific community is undecided as to whether tree planting in temperate climates should be used for the provision of carbon dioxide offsets. There is some debate as to whether the reduced snow cover caused by a forested area will reduce the Earth’s surface albedo (the extent to which the Earth’s surface reflects heat back out of the atmosphere) sufficiently to actually cause a net warming rather than cooling. Until this issue is resolved WLT will only plant trees in tropical climates for the provision of offsets.

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15. Do you own the land where the planting and restoration takes place?

No. The land is owned by a local partner organisation and is incorporated into an existing reserve to be managed for conservation purposes in perpetuity (in legal terms this means a minimum of a century). We have an agreement with the local partner organisation to this effect.

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16. How do you protect this area of land / tropical forest from being destroyed?

WLT ensures that long term contracts are established for the ownership and management of all the land it acquires. WLT have been managing land acquisition projects since 1989 and are accustomed to working with governments and the private sector to ensure protection in perpetuity. Our local project partners oversee the management and protection of the land on the ground. The costs of this work are built into the offset price.

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17. How many mature trees are saved per acre of land purchased through the WLT Carbon Balanced programme?

Drawing on an extensive data set WLT calculates that there are approximately 158 trees with a diameter of 10cm or more per acre of tropical forest purchased through the Carbon Balanced programme. A tree of such a diameter is likely to be reaching forest canopy height.

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18. How much of a tree's stored carbon would be released by either felling or burning?

The greater part of the stored carbon in a forest is released by burning almost immediately after clearance and most of the remainder is released rather more slowly by decay. For practical purposes we assume 100% is actually released through the act of clearing though a small proportion does remain in the soil as inert charcoal.

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19. How much carbon dioxide does an acre of rainforest absorb?

Mature standing forests are close to equilibrium with regards carbon dioxide. Growing trees, however, do absorb carbon dioxide and store this within the woody biomass. Our carbon projects are based on a 20 year accounting period and the growth rate throughout the 20 years is not constant. In 2005 we carried out our own carbon stock inventory in Ecuador and our results suggest an acre of growing forest will absorb 75 tonnes of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. An acre of the mature forest stores 109 tonnes of carbon dioxide on average.

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20. How long would you expect a newly planted tree to contribute as a carbon sink?

WLT Ecosystem Services projects are based on a 20 year accounting period so that the offset can be achieved in a reasonable time frame. However, beyond this 20 year period the trees will continue to sequester carbon dioxide emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advises that newly planted or regenerated forests will continue to uptake carbon for 20 to 50 years or more after establishment, depending on site location, tree species and major disturbance events. All WLT Ecosystem Services projects ensure protection of land in perpetuity, so once an offset/planting commitment has been fulfilled the forest will continue to survive after the end of the delivery of the 'offset/planting horizon'.

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21. Surely Carbon Balanced projects just sell the same pieces of land over and over again?

No, the offsets arising from each piece of land are sold only once. WLT is a not-for-profit organisation that uses all money it raises for conservation projects, buying areas of critically endangered land around the world.

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22. When WLT protects an area of land, what precautions are taken to ensure that the destructive activities are not just displaced elsewhere?

WLT has extensive experience in buying and managing endangered land and our partnerships with local NGO organisations means that we are able to enlist the help of the local indigenous community with the protection and management of the land. All our carbon stock calculations factor in a mandatory reduction for leakage. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest a 30-40% reduction in the total carbon stock and WLT always apply a 40% reduction unless there is satisfactory evidence to the contrary.

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23. Is the Carbon Balanced programme a money-making initiative by the World Land Trust?

WLT wish to raise funds to restore and protect critically threatened habitat through the provision of carbon dioxide offsets. WLT is a not-for-profit organisation and all money raised is used to protect and restore areas of critically endangered land. If any profit accumulates it will be ploughed back into the conservation fund and will be used to purchase more acres of threatened habitat.

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24. What makes Carbon Balanced different to all the other offset providers on the market?

WLT is a not-for-profit organisation. All money raised is used to fund restoration ecology projects which protect and restore areas of critically endangered habitats. WLT designs projects which will increase the biodiversity of an area as well as provide carbon dioxide offsets. The money you give us will be used for dual effect.

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25. What is the WLT's position regarding biofuels from monoculture plantations established at the expense of forest?

World Land Trust believes that any gain from increased use of biofuels produced by existing technology is negated by the deforestation needed to establish the plantations while exacerbating loss of biodiversity. Please see our policy statement on biofuels. It seems pointless to solve one problem by worsening another - the two concerns have to be taken together, which is why WLT projects aim to benefit biodiversity and conserve endangered habitat alongside carbon sequestration. This is also the underlying principle for the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard criteria, used by WLT to guide project design. This standard evaluates projects based on their combined contribution to climate mitigation, biodiversity and the local community and therefore only projects which will benefit both biodiversity and local communities will gain approval.

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26. Can I just make a straight donation to an Ecosystem Services project rather than calculate my exact offset?

Yes. You can visit our fixed offsets page which provides fixed offset amounts for an individual, couple or family. These offsets are based on Defra’s national average emissions which take in to account home, appliance and travel energy use.

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Business specific FAQs

  1. Why is a carbon audit important?
  2. How much does a carbon audit cost?
  3. Is there any financial benefit to getting involved in carbon offsetting?
  4. My company is looking for someone to come and do a survey of our office to see how we can make it more energy efficient. Is this something you'd be able to do?
  5. Carbon Balancing sounds complicated - will it inconvenience us?
  6. How do I do a business audit, what is the process?
  7. When we know how much carbon dioxide we emit, what do we do next?
  8. Offsetting sounds like it could be expensive?
  9. Can WLT help my organisation become a "carbon neutral" company?
  10. Your website mentions that you carry out due diligence on an organisation wishing to offset. What does this mean?
  11. What will my company receive from WLT if we offset?
  12. Can my company choose the project they wish their Carbon Balanced contribution to go towards?
  13. What do you mean by ‘Greenwash’?

1. Why is a carbon audit important?

A carbon audit helps an organisation establish how much energy they are consuming, and therefore the carbon dioxide emissions they are responsible for. For the vast majority of businesses an assessment can be conducted simply by filling in the free carbon emissions audit form which aims to quantify how much electricity, gas and other fuels have been used and the distances travelled for business purposes by different types of transport. The most appropriate person to fill out this form will have access to utility bills as well as records of distances travelled by different forms of transport for business purposes. It is important to be as accurate as possible when filling out this form. Following the carbon audit a business should try to reduce its emissions as much as possible. WLT recommends organisations should visit the reduce your emissions page to find energy reduction advice websites. Once energy reductions have been achieved the carbon audit should be re-calculated and the unavoidable emissions offset.

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2. How much does a carbon audit cost?

A standard carbon audit is free and will be overseen by the World Land Trust. The only investment that a business needs to make is in terms of time. It is important to be as accurate as possible when filling out the audit form and it is best to refer to utility bills, gas and electricity meters, details on other processes which contribute to carbon emissions (eg: printing), plus any transport or fleet operations. However, if the online audit is not suitable we can offer a bespoke carbon audit service, also free of charge.

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3. Is there any financial benefit to getting involved in carbon offsetting?

Yes, calculating the carbon dioxide emissions associated with your business can highlight areas of the organisation where energy reductions can take place. The Carbon Reduction Programme (CRed) which is based in the top-rated School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA) offers a simple, six-step Business Standard audit designed to help businesses act to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. By improving energy efficiency a business is likely to see a reduction in energy use costs.

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4. My company is looking for someone to come and do a survey of our office to see how we can make it more energy efficient. Is this something you'd be able to do?

WLT does not offer the sort of service you require. We always encourage organisations to reduce emissions at source first, before they offset, and for energy reduction advice we recommend the Carbon Reduction Programme (CRed). WLT have strong links with CRed which is associated with the University of East Anglia. It offers advice and help to both individuals and businesses on energy efficiency.

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5. Carbon Balancing sounds complicated - will it inconvenience us?

The audit form completion will require some investment of time, but WLT try to make the process of Carbon Balancing as straight forward as possible. Whilst we will need certain information about your business, these details should be relatively easy to find for someone who deals with the day to day management of the company.

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6. How do I do a business audit, what is the process?

Organisations should visit our free carbon emissions audit page and submit the audit form to WLT online. The information required to fill out this form is based on the energy use of the organisation. For this reason the most appropriate person to fill out this form will have access to utility bills as well as records of distances travelled by different forms of transport for business purposes. It is important to be as accurate as possible when filling out this form. WLT calculate the offset required and issue an audit report which details the offset size and cost. However, if the online audit is not suitable for your needs we can offer a bespoke carbon audit service.

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7. When we know how much carbon dioxide we emit, what do we do next?

The next step should be to reduce emissions at source as much as possible. Only once reduction has been achieved should offsetting be considered. Offsetting alone will not solve the global climate challenge but it can play an important role if used as part of a complete mitigation approach. The WLT is keen to recommend organisations who provide reduction advice and a list of links can be found on our reduce your emissions page.

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8. Offsetting sounds like it could be expensive?

The carbon balanced audit is a free of charge service and can save an organisation money in the long run, by identifying areas where energy consumption can be reduced and efficiencies improved. WLT offsets restore and protect critically threatened habitat through the provision of carbon dioxide offsets. The cost of delivering an offset through forestry-based work varies widely depending on its location, the land price, the scale and work involved, and the strictness of the monitoring regime. WLT’s Carbon Balanced Programme began in 2005 and since then we have revised the price of the work as new projects have been developed, keeping the costs as low as possible, while giving the best conservation value. The price of £15 per tonne of CO2 enables us to assure the offset carbon and maximise the forest conservation value.

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9. Can WLT help my organisation become a "carbon neutral" company?

Unfortunately not. In response to increasing use of the term "carbon neutral" by businesses and other organisations, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recently released a code of guidance on "carbon neutrality". According to this document:

"Carbon neutral means that – through a transparent process of calculating emissions, reducing those emissions and offsetting residual emissions – net carbon emissions equal zero"

This three-step process is entirely consistent with the approach WLT has long been advocating. However, at the present time, this Government guidance only recognises carbon offsets from projects that have been fully certified and their offsets logged with an approved registry.While Carbon Balanced projects are designed to meet the demanding principles of the internationally recognised CCB standard, they have not been submitted for validation. As a result, the WLT asks organisation to refrain from making claims of carbon neutrality in association with Carbon Balanced offsets.

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10. Your website mentions that you carry out due diligence on an organisation wishing to offset. What does this mean?

As a charity WLT’s most valuable assets are its reputation and the loyalty of its supporters. WLT are very careful not to participate in any activity which might jeopardise these. When an organisation submits emissions data for a Carbon Balanced audit we carry out checks to make sure the company is one we would be happy to be associated with.

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11. What will my company receive from WLT if we offset through Carbon Balanced?

WLT issue an acknowledge letter and Carbon Balanced certificate once payment for the offset has been received. WLT newsletters are sent twice a year and employees can sign up for the WLT ebulletins. Organisations are allowed to use the Carbon Balanced logo on their website and in marketing materials and, at the company's discretion, its details will be added to our Carbon Balanced companies webpage. An annual Carbon Balanced activity report will be issued to each Carbon Balanced company at the beginning of each year.

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12. Can my company choose the project they wish their Carbon Balanced contribution to go towards?

We prefer to have flexibility in placing the Carbon Balanced funds so that we can direct the money according to the current priority project. However, after the allocation of funds has been made we can tell donors which project their money has gone towards.

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13. What do you mean by ‘Greenwash’?

Greenwash is a term that is widely used to describe a company or organisation whose marketing and PR suggests it follows positive environmental practices when it is really conducting business as usual.

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