Nature-Based Benefits in Focus: Social & Community Benefits
This series has considered the important role of carbon sequestration projects in protecting forest water quality and grassland biodiversity. Social and community impacts are another essential component of nature-based climate solutions. Equitable socio-economic growth features prominently in the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have been identified by the United Nations as key drivers of durable peace and prosperity .
The ecological management techniques used to preserve and increase carbon stocks can generate a myriad of social and environmental co-benefits. Great Mountain Forest, a TCT-supported Improved Forest Management (IFM) project in Connecticut, provides recreational access and forestry internships to New Englanders. In addition, IFM and grassland projects are rooted in sustainable resource management principles that balance the preservation of existing carbon stocks with active use. Sustainable resource management depends upon and supports a skilled technical labor force including ranchers, foresters, and geospatial analysts (SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth). A recent study showed that a reforestation project on collectively owned Indigenous land in Panama increased participant’s food security (SDG 2: Zero Hunger). One participant communicated that “Before I never had fruit or timber and now my children will have it and benefit will come to my family… I will leave this for my children” .
Carbon project revenues provide resources that are frequently re-invested into maintaining, improving, and acquiring open spaces and working lands that greatly benefit communities and the climate. For example, the Yurok Tribe in California is using revenues from their TCT supported IFM projects to acquire more of their ancestral territory. Many of these lands will be managed for carbon sequestration, sustainable timber harvesting, and the recovery of native salmon populations so important to the tribe’s livelihood. (SDG 12: Responsible Production) . The Yurok’s acquisitions include a 40-acre farm that will serve as an outdoor classroom and a source of organic produce on the Tribe’s reservation, which was identified as a food desert by the USDA in 2017 . In this case, carbon finance is also linked to SDGs 3: Good Health and Well-being, and 4: Quality Education.
Crucially, nature-based projects sequester carbon in addition to providing these co-benefits. In the United States, the costs of climate change to society are summarized by the social cost of carbon, an estimate of present and future damages attributable to emitting one ton of CO2. The EPA’s current estimate is $51 per ton , far higher than the market price of offsets. The social cost of carbon does not currently capture disparities in the effects of climate change which have already exacerbated global economic inequality . Yet the high social cost of carbon illustrates why Climate Action is a Sustainable Development Goal on its own. Nature-based carbon projects have demonstrated their utility in addressing current social concerns and mitigating future damages. Offset developers and purchasers should continue to prioritize wholistic projects that benefit the climate and communities.
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