2020 has been a year of unpredictability for businesses and individuals across the world. As we navigated the ever-changing needs of our clients, employees and colleagues, we simultaneously watched the tragic effects of global climate change. With increasing concern, we realized that we and the broader industry were not doing enough to reduce our collective impact on the environment. As a business focused on moving goods around the world, we knew we were contributing to the climate crisis, but were also uniquely positioned to take action to assess and reduce this impact as well.
In a recent blog post and accompanying white paper, we announced our commitment to sustainability, reducing our carbon emissions, and creating tools to support our company and our clients in making informed climate-friendly decisions when shipping. As a next step in this commitment, we produced our first shipping emissions audit this year with the Carbon Accounting Company. With this complete, Arta is proud to announce that we have made a donation on behalf of our clients to old-growth forest conservation to counteract the emissions from all shipments booked through the Arta platform in 2020. We have chosen to make this donation through the artist-founded non-profit Art to Acres. Art to Acres works with the art community to support permanent large-scale land conservation of primary-growth forests for a myriad of benefits, including clean water, biodiversity and enduring high-level carbon sequestration.
About our investment
Arta's contribution will support the permanent conservation of 6,300 acres of tropical forest in the Chuyapi-Urusayhua Regional Conservation Area near Cusco, Peru, about 12 miles northwest of the iconic Machu Picchu. This particular forest, which spans nearly 200,000 acres, is original cloud forest, which is the wettest type of forest globally. Straddling the equator, the Andean cloud forests of Peru are some of the most biodiverse, fragile, and complex cloud forests on earth. Many conservationists consider them the world’s greatest conservation priority. Tropical forests are among the highest-density carbon sequestration forests on the planet and also the most endangered. These amazing ecosystems are vital to curbing climate change because of their vast stores of underground carbon. The unique mountainous topography of this location also makes it an ideal habitat for species during climate change, allowing species to locate higher and cooler ground as temperatures warm.
Most of the forested land in the Peruvian Amazon is held by the state or occupied by indigenous peoples. However, as Peru began to reform its forest governance at the turn of the century and free trade agreements with the US followed some years later, several executive decrees created loopholes to convert these forests into agricultural land via reclassification of land use. This action was widely opposed by national indigenous groups and NGOs, and together with the regional government of Cusco, a proposal to protect the Chuyapi-Urusayhua Regional Conservation Area was developed. Biodiversity surveys and legal processes are complete and the location is planned to be declared in early 2021. Arta is proud to contribute to such a large scale, permanent conservation project that will reap benefits for climate change for generations to come.
The concept of ‘offsets’ and why we chose conservation
We have seen an uptick in companies both big and small announcing a commitment to carbon neutrality over the past few years. In most cases, these organizations are hoping to achieve their carbon neutral position both through a reduction in emissions and through the use of “offsets.” At Arta, we advocate that a reduction in emissions should be the first goal of any organization looking to have a positive impact on the environment. The global aim, set under the Paris Accord, is a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, and we are committed to this goal. For the 50% emissions that cannot be reduced, there are a variety of initiatives that an organization can invest in to “offset” those emissions. After much research, it became clear to our team that not all offsets were created equal; in fact there were more efficient and impactful opportunities to invest in that would reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
We found issues with traditional retail-based offsets. Many offsetting companies are for-profit entities that mark up the cost of their projects (the most common being tree planting), meaning much of the money contributed does not have a direct impact on reducing emissions from the atmosphere. Then there is the idea of permanence. Most of the commercial offset products on the market have a maximum 30-year commitment and audit duration. With tree-planting specifically, it can take up to 40 years before those trees can start sequestering carbon, and we don’t have 40 years to wait. As set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement, we must achieve net zero emissions globally no later than 2050 (more on this in our white paper).
Our team instead chose to invest in an initiative that would protect already sequestered carbon from being released into the atmosphere, also known as avoided emissions release. It is reported that 25% of the solution to climate change is conserving natural ecosystems in order to protect naturally sequestered carbon in the ground, in trees, and other plants.1 We need to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and carbon drawdown is what trees do well. There are two categories of carbon in regards to forest ecosystems: above and below ground carbon. By conserving the land in Peru, we are allowing the forest to continue to sequester carbon as well as protecting thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide currently stored below ground from being released into the atmosphere. Moreover, data from Global Forest Watch Climate shows that if tropical forest loss continues at the current rate, it will be nearly impossible to keep warming below the pledged 2°C in the Paris Agreement.
Trees and related nature-based solutions are currently our most efficient technology to remove carbon from the air. But, the carbon dioxide that trees absorb does not just go away; instead, the carbon literally becomes part of the biomass of the tree. If the forest is well managed, it can grow for centuries; and we can consider the sequestration “durable” as long as that management persists and is monitored.2 Should the carbon sequestered underground in this old-growth forest ecosystem for thousands of years be released, it would rebond with oxygen and send an incredible amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. In this regard, the longevity and permanence of this forest conservation project was important to us, particularly given the consequences of what would happen should the land be deforested.
In summary, we looked at opportunities where every dollar of our contribution would have a direct, immediate, and permanent impact by removing carbon from the atmosphere and avoiding the release of carbon that is already stored underground. Working with Art to Acres gave us complete transparency into the details, due diligence and location of the project. This and their commitment to permanence and non-profit status, we know the cost for the project was not subject to retail markup. The location will be audited annually for management due diligence and we will continue to get updates about the progress of the project for years to come that can be shared with our clients. While there are many organizations to which to donate to protect the environment, we wanted to make sure with our first donation that there was an environment left to protect: nature.
We are aware of Arta's unique position as a technology-driven logistics company to utilize data and online tools to help our partners and clients reduce their carbon footprint. Over the coming years, we will work to build useful, innovative features in our product that directly address ways we can positively impact climate change.
1 World Resources Institute, By the Numbers: The Value of Tropical Forests in the Climate Change Equation, October 04, 2018 https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/numbers-value-tropical-forests-climate-change-equation#:~:text=Tropical%20forests%20are%208%20percent,climate%20mitigation%20needed%20before%202030.
2 Ryan Orbuch, Thoughts on Carbon Sequestration, February 22, 2020 https://www.orbuch.com/carbon-removal/.