The future of forest carbon

SilviaTerra's precision forest data empowering landowners to be part of the climate solution


Environmental activism groups such as Greenpeace are traditionally guardians of the natural value of our forests, beyond their market value in timber. Activists have warned that the economic drive of the fossil fuel industry will be the ultimate deciding force on the fate of forests. Yet in 2021, in the current context in which technology is opening the door to alternative management schemes, is it now time to update this narrative that opposes corporate interests to the survival of our natural habitats?

Let’s rewind to the challenge of the forest preservation. Various strategies can be assessed using the RISE framework for impact: Real (does the strategy result in more total landscape forest carbon?), Immediate (does the strategy create near-term or distant future impact), Scalable (how many billions of tons can the strategy remove from the atmosphere this decade?) and Efficient (price per ton removed from the atmosphere). These criteria (and others) guide the efficient deployment of money to the right acres at the right time, in approximate order of importance, with Real being the top priority.

"While existing forest carbon systems have already had some impact, these systems do not always achieve optimal RISE impact. In some cases, landowners are even paid to do what they were going to do anyway. The result is that resources spent are not matched by actual change."

US start-up SilviaTerra has developed a system that may offer an alternative to timber-harvesting as an economic factor. SilviaTerra has a system called Natural Capital Exchange (NCAPX) to create a “carbon marketplace”, providing small and large landowners with the opportunity to preserve forests as a viable economic alternative to harvesting timber. NCAPX is made possible by SilviaTerra Basemap (developed with Microsoft AI for Good), which reports the size and species of trees on every acre, every year.

These reports give landowners insight into the composition of their forests, and the payments they could receive by reducing their timber harvest in the current year.

"Using high-resolution forest data from SilviaTerra Basemap and economic modeling, SilviaTerra is able to calculate how many trees would usually be harvested on each property. This represents the “business as usual” case."

Each landowner is provided with a roadmap of how much carbon landscape stockage they could do, based on a reduction of timber harvesting. Their decision will be influenced by the price per ton of saved carbon. As the price of carbon rises, more independent landowner participation translates to more carbon removed from the atmosphere and stored on the landscape that year.

The carbon marketplace NCAPX provides landowners with the chance to reduce their timber harvest and receive payment. Payment will flow efficiently to the lowest cost carbon on the landscape. The result is to optimize the Real amount of carbon on the landscape, i.e. relative to the “business as usual” scenario. Without this insight using geo-localized information, it would be very difficult to judge the “business as usual” point and thus propose compensation for those landowners truly reducing the timber harvested.

It is often noted by technology experts that the true source of all power is data. Thanks to these insights from SilviaTerra's basemap that allows precise information on forestry, the entire concept of a carbon marketplace becomes possible. Furthermore, NCAPX is expanding in a way that will enable it to soon cover every acre in the US. The future of saving forests may be found in the technology of one AI start-up.

Source: SilviaTerra