Can a New Satellite Company Shore Up Forest Carbon Offsets?

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Corporations attempting to reduce their carbon footprint in the short run are restoring forests as a way of offsetting the carbon they release into the atmosphere. But some of these initiatives may be less effective than advertised. They are alleged to have inflated the amount of carbon saved from corporate ownership or claimed to protect land that was never under threat of logging.  For example, California’s offset program accounts for offsets based on averages that may not fully capture the complexity of how much carbon is actually being captured in the trees. A new company, Pachama, is attempting to improve the marketplace for forest carbon credits, making them more transparent and accurate, by using satellite imagery and artificial intelligence. It has attracted  $15 million of funding so far for product development, and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund is an investor, according to Techcrunch. 

Why this Matters:  In 2020, companies bought more than 93 million carbon credits, equivalent to the pollution from 20 million cars in a year, a 33% increase over 2019. But in order to be effective, it’s crucial that these credits are actually reducing overall emissions. A new analysis from CarbonPlan, a San Francisco nonprofit that analyzes the scientific integrity of carbon removal efforts, took a hard look at California’s forest offset program, and now argues that a large fraction of the credits in the program do not reflect real climate benefits.  But too much negative press may keep offset markets from growing just as they are getting started.

A Potential Solution?

Though Pachama launched only one year ago, it seems to have already made a splash — in addition to receiving support from Bill Gates’ investment firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, it has also attracted the attention of Mercado Libre, the largest e-commerce company in Latin America. 

Saez Gil, the founder and CEO of Pachama, told TechCrunch: “Restoring nature is one of the most important solutions to climate change. Forests, oceans and other ecosystems not only sequester enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, but they also provide critical habitat for biodiversity and are sources of livelihood for communities worldwide. We are building the technology stack required to be able to drive funding to the restoration and conservation of these ecosystems with integrity, transparency and efficiency. We feel honored and excited to have the support of such an incredible group of investors who believe in our mission and are demonstrating their willingness to support our growth for the long term.” 

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