Carbon Credits: A Conservation Finance Solution to Funding Urban Forests

The Importance of Urban Trees

Urban forests stand at the center of carbon removal, social equity, public health, biodiversity, and positive community impacts where millions of people reside. Benefits range from cooler air in the summer to a reduction in stormwater runoff headed towards drainage systems during flooding events to improved health outcomes, resulting in less money spent on healthcare. However, as cities and urban area populations increase, municipalities are struggling to maintain existing city forests and increase urban tree canopy. A few of these challenges include pest and disease control, extreme heat, limited water and strapped city budgets. At the same time, cities are losing more than 36,000,000 trees each year in the U.S. and are projected to add 95 million acres of urban land by 2060. It is vital to preserve some of the forested land in and around cities now. These preserved areas could become the parks of the future and open nearby nature to the public. We also need to care for newly planted trees and provide improved access to all the benefits that these natural assets deliver.

The Value of Carbon+ Credits

Urban forest carbon credits offer a new way to generate revenue for projects that benefit millions of Americans and improve their health and well-being while also providing local climate action. City Forest Credits (CFC) is a national nonprofit carbon registry that serves one sector of carbon – the carbon stored in forests and trees in metropolitan areas. Entities that complete carbon projects include local governments, nonprofits, and sometimes a collaborative mix of both. Almost all the projects take place on public property or are open to the public, making these credits of genuine public interest.

Given the many benefits trees provide in addition to storing and sequestering carbon, urban forest carbon credits, or Carbon+ CreditsTM are very valuable. Each City Forest Carbon+ CreditTM includes quantified co-benefits such as stormwater reduction, air quality impacts, and energy savings, as well as reported social impacts such as social equity for under-resourced communities and physical, mental, and social health benefits. To date, CFC has issued credits to projects representing an estimated $128 million in ecosystem co-benefits over 50 years.

Verified carbon offsets allow businesses to contribute to these tree projects that are making cities green, equitable, healthy, and climate-ready. Companies purchasing credits on the voluntary carbon market are willing to pay a premium due to the many benefits projects create where people live, work, and recreate. The sale price of credits is determined by the buyer and the entity leading the project and depends on the market conditions at the time of sale. Credit revenue may be used for stewardship and maintenance costs, as well as help with the cost of buying future trees or land. New funding allows municipalities and nonprofit organizations to strategically increase tree canopy cover and diversify tree species to create a more resilient urban forest, considering the changing climate and future threats from pests and diseases. Urban forest carbon projects are also valuable for advancing equity initiatives in cities. Entities can work with communities to design projects that strategically plant trees in historically disadvantaged communities and enroll these trees in a carbon project, thereby creating revenue for long-term maintenance and additional planting of trees.

Rigor Behind the Credits

City Forest Credits’ (CFC) carbon crediting process offers a systems and accountability approach that ensures high-quality urban forest projects. Projects must follow a rigorous set of rules outlined in the CFC Standard and Protocols, and go through a third-party verification process, ensuring the credits are of superior quality. Additionally, the CFC Standard is endorsed by the prestigious 15-year-old, International Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Accreditation (ICROA). ICROA’s endorsement confers international credibility for CFC and is powerful validation of the work to bring these public interest credits generated by nonprofits and local governments to the market with transparency and integrity.

CFC has Protocols for two types of projects: tree planting and tree preservation. Tree planting, also known as afforestation and reforestation, requires a 26-year commitment. Tree preservation projects require a 40 or 100-year commitment. These long-term commitments are one of many of the requirements of carbon projects that set them apart from business as usual. The entities leading the project, also known as Project Operators, must agree to monitor the trees over the course of the project duration, ensuring accountability and results.

Planting Project: City of Highland Park, Illinois

Cities, nonprofit organizations, and other entities all over the country are completing urban tree planting and preservation projects to generate long-term funding. There are multiple projects that have taken place, or underway, in the Chicago region as part of the Chicago Region Carbon Program (CRCP). One project within the Chicago Program is a planting project led by the City of Highland Park. The City enrolled over 800 trees into their carbon project, planted over the course of three years, primarily in the City-owned right of way. The project helped fulfill the City’s goal of diversifying tree species to create a more resilient urban forest. This goal is key as climate change is leading to stressors that may easily allow for pests and disease. The revenue generated from selling credits will be invested in maintenance and planting additional trees. Additionally, the City of Highland Park has a Sustainability Strategic Plan, and tree planting and maintenance efforts are well supported by their City Council.

Photo Credit: City of Highland Park

Planting Project: City of Des Moines, Iowa, and Trees Forever

The City of Des Moines partnered with a nonprofit, Trees Forever, to lead a carbon planting project to increase funding for future tree maintenance. They launched a carbon program called Reforesting Des Moines, planting over 2,500 trees in two years along streets and in parks throughout the city. Their main goal was to increase tree equity throughout the city. This is especially important as trees are inequitably distributed in historically red-lined communities within Des Moines. These tree plantings help move the city towards its canopy goals, especially in under-resourced and low-canopy neighborhoods. Additionally, Trees Forever operates a workforce training program, Growing Futures, which employs teenagers and young adults to plant and maintain trees. In addition to learning valuable tree planting and maintenance skills, teens also learn valuable leadership, financial and career skills as participants in Growing Futures (Photo 1). Trees Forever and the City of Des Moines plan to partner together to continue reforesting Des Moines via annual or biannual carbon projects. Working with Trees Forever has empowered the City of Des Moines’ small forestry program to extend its capacity.

Trees Forever workforce installing young trees in the community. Photo Credit: Trees Forever

Preservation Project: City of Atlanta, Georgia

The City of Atlanta’s Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Resilience completed a 196-acre forest preservation project at Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve. The area preserved is one of the largest remaining high-quality forests in the City of Atlanta, consisting of a mix of mature hardwoods and evergreens. In addition to preserving old growth forest and biodiversity, this project furthered wildlife and ecological health native to the site, greenspace access for the public, connectivity to other important ecosystems, and many public health benefits. Protecting the forest ensures the continuance of this biodiversity hotspot within the city. Another unique benefit is the preservation of historic Native American quarry and workshop sites, dating back to 3,000 – 1,000 BC. Preservation projects are opportunities to utilize revenue-generating models that allow for steady maintenance and stewardship funding, as well as future funding to preserve additional land. Not only will preservation of the forest avoid the emissions that would come with development, the forest and carbon stock will grow over time.

Preservation of forest on a 196-acre forest at Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve. Photo Credit: City of Atlanta

A Conservation Finance Solution

In summary, carbon credits are a conservation finance solution to declining urban forests. Tree projects with the long-term commitments required by carbon crediting provide social, human health, and equity impacts that are felt within a community from young to old. A win for everyone.

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more, visit the CFC website or contact us: