Reforestation Carbon Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

Reforestation Carbon Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

By
Grace Smoot

Read Time:14 Minutes

CLICK TO
SUBSCRIBE

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja ?

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

In the scope of carbon offsets, reforestation (planting trees) could play a role in lowering the global average concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere, which now registers at over 400 parts per million. Trees absorb CO2, which helps to regulate our climate. So, we had to ask: What are reforestation carbon offsets really, and could they help us mitigate climate change?

Reforestation carbon offsets are a specific type of avoidance carbon offset that reduce carbon emissions by planting trees in recently deforested areas. Reforestation offsets are cost-effective and reinforce our carbon sinks; however, they can lack permanence and face storage capacity limitations.

Keep reading to find out all about what reforestation carbon offsets are, how they work, how effective and efficient they are, what their pros and cons are, and what the best ones are. 

At the end of the article, we’ll also share with you how these offsets can help mitigate climate change and what better alternatives to them are. 

The Big Picture of Reforestation Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets play an important role in mitigating the effects of global climate change by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beyond what we each can achieve through individual actions. Reforestation carbon offsets are a specific type of tree planting carbon offset that convert recently non-forested land back into forested land.

What are reforestation carbon offsetsReforestation carbon offsets are a specific type of tree planting carbon offset that focus on the replanting of trees in recently deforested areas (i.e., converting recently non-forested land back into forest).
How do reforestation carbon offsets workReforestation carbon offsets fund projects that plant trees in recently deforested areas. This bolsters our forest carbon sink and allows for increased atmospheric CO2 absorption.
How effective and efficient are reforestation carbon offsetsReforestation offsets are effective because Reforestation offsets are efficient in the sense that 
What are the 5 pros of reforestation carbon offsetsReforestation offsets are cost-effectiveReforestation offsets reinforce our carbon sinksReforestation offsets preserve biodiversityReforestation offsets promote clean waterReforestation offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually
What are the 4 cons of reforestation carbon offsetsReforestation offsets often lack permanenceReforestation offsets do not reduce carbon emissions immediatelyReforestation offsets face carbon storage capacity limitationsReforestation offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing
What are the best reforestation carbon offsetsThe best reforestation carbon offsets are offered by The Arbor Day Foundation, Reforest’Action, and Ecologi that all plant trees around the globe. In addition, Restore the Earth Foundation’s offsets reforest the North American Amazon, and One Tree Planted in four countries.
How can reforestation carbon offsets help mitigate climate changeReforestation offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they plant more trees, and trees remove CO2 from the air as they grow. By increasing the number of trees on our planet, we increase the amount of carbon they are capable of storing.

What Are Reforestation Carbon Offsets

Reforestation carbon offsets are a specific type of tree planting carbon offset that focus on replanting trees in recently deforested areas (i.e., converting recently non-forested land back into forest).

Planting trees can be classified two ways, either as reforestation or afforestation. Reforestation is an example of biological carbon sequestration, or the storage of carbon in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, which are commonly referred to as our carbon sinks

“Reforestation: the action of renewing forest cover (as by natural seeding or by the artificial planting of seeds or young trees)”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Reforestation carbon offsets can help combat deforestation, which is the main threat to our forests and occurs at approximately 10 million hectares (~25 million acres) per year. 

Illustration of deforestation and forest loss since the last ice age
Our World in Data: Deforestation and Forest Loss

In total, our planet has lost more than 1/3 of its forest since the last ice age, which occurred about 2.6 million years ago. 

How Do Reforestation Carbon Offsets Work

Reforestation projects reduce CO2 emissions by increasing the number of trees on the planet, which absorb CO2 as they grow and mature

Reforestation carbon offsets fund projects that plant trees in recently deforested areas. This bolsters our forest carbon sink and allows for increased atmospheric CO2 absorption.

Reforestation is one of the easiest and most meaningful ways you can help preserve the environment and combat global climate change. Trees not only act as one of our largest carbon sinks, they also provide numerous benefits in addition to climate change mitigation.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of reforestation offsets? Check out the full article here: “What Are Reforestation Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture”

How Effective and Efficient Are Reforestation Carbon Offsets

In terms of effectiveness, reforestation carbon offsets reinforce our carbon sinks; however, they often lack permanence, do not reduce carbon emissions immediately, and do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing

In terms of efficiency, reforestation carbon offsets are relatively cost-effective and continue to avoid CO2 emissions after their project life span; however, they also face carbon storage capacity limitations.

Reforestation carbon offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because they reinforce one of our largest carbon sinks capable of absorbing a net 7.6 bt of CO2 per year.

However, reforestation carbon offsets can also lack effectiveness because they:

Reforestation carbon offsets are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because they:

  • Are relatively cost-effective when compared to other methods of carbon emission reduction
  • Can continue to reduce carbon emissions long after the trees have been planted.

However, reforestation carbon offsets can also lack efficiency because they face carbon storage capacity limitations.

Reforestation carbon offsets also do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing. This occurs when emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, and the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not. This is why we should first reduce our emissions before relying on offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about how effective and efficient reforestation carbon offsets are? Check out the full article here: “How Effective and Efficient Are Reforestation Carbon Offsets? Here Are the Facts”

What Are The 5 Pros and 4 Cons of Reforestation Carbon Offsets

Reforestation carbon offsets are cost-effective, reinforce our carbon sinks, preserve biodiversity, promote clean water, and allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

However, reforestation carbon offsets also often lack permanence, do not reduce carbon emissions immediately, face carbon storage capacity limitations, and do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the pros and cons of reforestation carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “Reforestation Carbon Offsets: All 5 Pros and 4 Cons Explained”

What Are the 5 Pros of Reforestation Carbon Offsets

Reforestation carbon offsets have various pros that make them effective at absorbing carbon from our atmosphere.

5 Pros of Reforestation Carbon OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Reforestation offsets are cost-effectiveReforestation carbon offsets themselves are typically more cost-effective than other categories of carbon offsets. For example, reforestation offsets from leading providers (i.e., The Arbor Day Foundation, Reforest’Action, Ecologi, and One Tree Planted) cost less than $50 per ton of CO2 offset. 
#2: Reforestation offsets reinforce our carbon sinksForests act as a giant carbon sink capable of absorbing a net 7.6 bt of CO2 per year and storing it in their leaves, trunks, roots, and surrounding soil.
#3: Reforestation offsets preserve biodiversityReforestation promotes biodiversity because forests support terrestrial and aquatic wildlife by providing habitats and helping to keep waterways healthy. Having a variety of plants and animals also sustains healthy ecosystems
#4: Reforestation offsets help maintain the water cycleTrees capture, store, and use rainfall which aids in maintaining water quality and regulating the natural water cycle. When it rains, trees slow down the flow of water by absorbing it into the ground. This filters pollution and reduces flooding risks.
#5: Reforestation offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individuallyReforestation carbon offsets allow us to reduce emissions from activities where sustainable alternatives are not yet widely available. 

What Are the 4 Cons of Reforestation Carbon Offsets

Understanding the drawbacks of reforestation carbon offsets is important when implementing this strategy on a large scale in order to mitigate climate change.

4 Cons of Reforestation Carbon OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Reforestation offsets often lack permanenceReforestation offsets often lack permanence because they are reversible. Trees die naturally, and environmental disasters such as floods, fires, changes in land use, and climate change itself can negate any permanence.
#2: Reforestation offsets do not reduce carbon emissions immediately Carbon emission reductions are delayed when you plant new forests because you have to wait around 20 years for the trees to reach maturity before they can begin to reduce carbon emissions. 
#3: Reforestation offsets face carbon storage capacity limitationsTrees can only store so much carbon. Their carbon storage capacity ranges from 10-40kg (22-88 pounds) of CO2 per year, which isn’t enough to compensate for all of our carbon emissions.
#4: Reforestation offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashingIf emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, this could lead to greenwashing, when the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not. 

How Could you Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint With Reforestation Carbon Offsets

The market for carbon offsets was small in the year 2000, but by 2010 it had already grown to represent nearly $10 billion worldwide. The voluntary carbon offset market (VCM) is where everyday consumers can purchase carbon offsets to offset their carbon emissions, and the Ecosystem Marketplace predicts the VCM can grow to $50B by the year 2050

Because reforestation carbon offsets are cost-effective and are one of the simplest ways you can contribute to the fight against climate change, they are expected to continue to make up an ever-increasing share of the VCM. Below are our favorite reforestation offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best reforestation carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “Best Reforestation Carbon Offsets (Complete 2023 List)”
Carbon Offsets for ReforestationQuick Facts
The Arbor Day FoundationAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified reforestation carbon offset projects including those in Mississippi, Nicaragua, and Peru.
Costs: $40 per 1,000kg of CO2
Reforest’ActionAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified reforestation carbon offset projects in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
Costs: $19.30 per 1,000kg of CO2 for a direct carbon offset, $20 per 1,000kg of CO2 for an offset subscription
EcologiAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified reforestation carbon offset projects including those in Madagascar, Mozambique, Bolivia, and Morocco.
Costs: $6.04 per 1,000 kg of CO2 offset
Restore the Earth FoundationAbout: Carbon offset purchases support reforestation in the Lower Mississippi RiverBasin in the US.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
One Tree PlantedAbout: Carbon offset purchases support reforestation in North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific.
Costs: $20 per 1,000kg of CO2
The Carbon Offset CompanyAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified reforestation carbon offset projects including those in the US, Senegal, Madagascar, Haiti, and Mozambique.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
GreenTreesAbout: The GreenTree reforestation program partners with landowners to convert farmland into hardwood forest. GreenTrees currently plant trees in the South Eastern US, the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, and the state of Virginia. 
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
CarbonfundAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified reforestation carbon offset projects including the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley Reforestation Initiative and the Panama Reforestation Project.
Costs: $16.25-$17.16 per 1,000kg of CO2 for individuals, $390-$1,560 per year for small businesses, determined after initial contact for large businesses
Cool EffectAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified reforestation carbon offset projects including The Giving Trees project in Kenya and Uganda.
Costs: $8.79-$21.97 per 1,000kg of CO2
myclimateAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified reforestation carbon offset projects including those in Nicaragua and Uganda.
Costs: $23-$30 per 1,000kg of CO2

How Can Reforestation Carbon Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Reforestation carbon offsets can help mitigate climate change because the more trees we plant, the more CO2 they can absorb from our atmosphere. Carbon in our atmosphere can, if left untreated, remain there for tens of thousands of years and exacerbate the negative effects of climate change.

How is Climate Change Defined

Climate change is arguably the most severe, long-term global impact of fossil fuel combustion. Every year, approximately 33 billion tons (bt) of CO2 are emitted from burning fossil fuels. The carbon found in fossil fuels reacts with oxygen in the air to produce CO2

“Climate change: changes in the earth’s weather, including changes in temperature, wind patterns and rainfall, especially the increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere that is caused by the increase of particular gasses, especially carbon dioxide.”

Oxford Dictionary

Atmospheric CO2 fuels climate change, which results in global warming. When CO2 and other air pollutants absorb sunlight and solar radiation in the atmosphere, it traps the heat and acts as an insulator for the planet. Since the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s temperature has risen a little more than 1 degree Celsius (C), or 2 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Between 1880-1980 the global temperature rose by 0.07C every 10 years. This rate has more than doubled since 1981, with a current global annual temperature rise of 0.18C, or 0.32F, for every 10 years. 

As outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we must cut current GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050

How Do Carbon Offsets Generally Help Mitigate Climate Change

Levels of carbon in our atmosphere that cause climate change have increased as a result of human emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750. The global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today registers at over 400 parts per million. Carbon offsets can help prevent these levels from increasing even more.

When you hear the words “carbon offset”, think about the term “compensation”. Essentially, carbon offsets are reductions in GHG emissions that are used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere

Carbon offsets that meet key criteria and verified project standards, are additional and permanent, and are a part of projects that are carried out until the end of their lifespan have the best chance of reducing carbon emissions and therefore reducing climate change. 

When we offset CO2 we also slow the rate of global temperature rise, which in turn minimizes the effects of climate change. 

How Do Reforestation Carbon Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

Reforestation offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they plant more trees, and trees remove CO2 from the air as they grow. By increasing the number of trees on our planet, we increase the amount of carbon they are capable of storing. The more carbon our forests can sequester, the less carbon there is in our atmosphere. And because higher levels of carbon exacerbate global warming, less is better.

What Are Better Alternatives to Reforestation Carbon Offsets

If used correctly, reforestation carbon offsets can provide environmental, economic, and social benefits beyond reducing carbon emissions. They have the potential to instigate meaningful environmental change and begin to reverse some of the effects of climate change. 

However, we can’t let this method be a guilt-free way to reduce carbon emissions. Reforestation carbon offsets must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures because planting trees alone will not reduce CO2 levels enough in the short term to meet 2030 net-zero targets. 

These reduction measures don’t have to involve drastic changes either. Actions that may seem small can have a big impact because those small changes add up! You can reduce your carbon footprint in three main areas of your life: household, travel, and lifestyle. 

Reduce your household carbon footprint:

Reduce your travel carbon footprint:

  • Walk or bike when possible: The most efficient ways of traveling are walking, bicycling, or taking the train. Using a bike instead of a car can reduce carbon emissions by 75%. These forms of transportation also provide lower levels of air pollution.

Reduce your lifestyle carbon footprint:

  • Switch to renewable energy sources: The six most common types of renewable energy are solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy. They are a substitute for fossil fuels that can reduce the effects of global warming by limiting global carbon emissions and other pollutants.
  • Recycle: Recycling uses less energy and deposits less waste in landfills. Less manufacturing and transportation energy costs means fewer carbon emissions generated. Less waste in landfills means less CH4 is generated.
  • Eat less meat and dairy: Meat and dairy account for 14.5% of global GHG emissions, with beef and lamb being the most carbon-intensive. Globally, we consume much more meat than is considered sustainable, and switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet could reduce emissions. 
  • Take shorter showers: Approximately 1.2 trillion gallons of water are used each year in the United States just for showering purposes, and showering takes up about 17% of residential water usage. The amount of water consumed and the energy cost of that consumption are directly related. The less water we use the less energy we use. And the less energy we use, the less of a negative impact we have on the environment.

Because reforestation offsets are an indirect way and not a direct way of reducing emissions, they alone will not be enough to reduce global carbon emissions significantly. Direct measures of emission reductions, such as reducing individual energy use and consumption, are better alternatives to reforestation offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning why reducing your carbon footprint is so important? Check it out in this article here: “4 Main Reasons Why Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Is Important”

Final Thoughts

Reforestation (tree planting) carbon offsets help reduce carbon emissions by planting trees, which absorb atmospheric CO2. They are relatively cost-effective and reinforce our carbon sinks; however, they often lack permanence, do not reduce carbon emissions immediately, and .face carbon storage capacity limitations. 

The top reforestation companies support third-party verified reforestation projects that plant trees around the globe. But although reforestation offsets can instigate meaningful change, they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. They are effective at reducing CO2 in the short term, but in the long term, they fail to reduce CO2 enough. 

When used in conjunction with direct CO2 reduction measures, carbon offsetting can be much more effective. We should reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible first, and only then choose the most effective carbon offsets.

Stay impactful,

Illustration of a signature for Grace



Sources

Photo of author
Did you like this article?

Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post