By Student Delegate Isabella Smith
According to the Carbon Majors Report, just 100 companies have been responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Yet industry does not have any formal obligation in negotiations like the Paris Agreement. Despite this illogical gap in international governance, many companies are beginning to acknowledge their responsibility in curbing climate change due to consumer pressures or internal leadership.
Lately, carbon-neutral pledges are a popular course of action among powerful industry actors, but they generate a fair share of skepticism. One major critique is that reaching carbon neutrality by protecting carbon sinks, instead of lowering carbon emissions, is an easy way out of making the necessary long-term changes. Additionally, sequestration projects can spark concerns about green colonialism – the idea that outsiders from the global north enter into less affluent and minority communities to take environmental actions that the outsiders think are best, without considering or consulting the parties it affects the most. However, if executed properly, the private sector can fill an important funding gap left open by governments falling short on Paris climate financing goals.
Additionally, an increasing number of industry commitments are starting to recognize the imperative role blue carbon can play in reaching pledges, as some of the most productive carbon sinks in the world. However, the manner in which industry carries out these pledges is integral to both environmental justice concerns and the effectiveness of the project. In Columbia, Apple has provided a meaningful blueprint for how to do so.
In 2018, Apple and Conservation International (CI) formed a partnership to preserve a 27,000-acre area of mangrove forests in Cispatá Bay in Columbia. This project is part of Apple’s pledge to be carbon neutral across their value chain by 2030. Apple and CI work closely with local organizations in Columbia like the Omacha Foundation and the Invemar Research Institute, as well as local communities and the local government, in order to make careful and informed decisions. This project aims to remove one million metric tons of emissions from the air over 30 years.
This project represents two crucial pieces of any industry-led carbon offset project. First, this collaborative partnership emphasizes how the voices of locals and indigenous communities must inform the actions taken by the outside actors. Apple and CI consider the needs and knowledge of local groups as well as environmental experts, before taking highly impactful actions. This ensures local dependence on the ecosystem, the intrinsic value the area holds for certain groups, and the global climate change impact are all taken into account to find the best solution for all involved parties.
Second, this was the first carbon offset credit project to fully account for the higher carbon storage capacity of mangroves. Mangroves are the most efficient carbon sinks out of any forest variety on earth, storing up to ten times as much carbon as terrestrial forests. A recent study showed that every dollar spent on protecting mangroves, could yield up to five dollars in climate adaption benefits. Outside of climate issues, mangroves also filter water, protect communities from storm surges, supply resources and food to locals, provide essential habitat to thousands of species, and protect from coastal erosion. These protections help coastal communities avoid over $80 billion in losses annually. The more expensive credit communicates the higher carbon value of these vital ecosystems. Other large corporations like Gucci and P&G have undertaken similar blue carbon-focused projects in the Philippines and Honduras.
As the COP26 negotiations come to a close, industry should look closely to see where it can fill in climate financing gaps left open by governments. Apple’s blue carbon project in Cispatá Bay provides an effective example for business and blue carbon projects to come.