Global Biodiversity Standard to tackle adverse impacts of tree planting on biodiversity
- Rapid expansion of tree planting schemes driving biodiversity crisis, with one in three tree species threatened with extinction
- Global Biodiversity Standard seeks to halt crisis by recognising initiatives that protect, restore, and enhance biodiversity rather than accelerate its decline
- The Standard is being developed by the global botanical community. Early backers include Ecosia, Plan Vivo, 1t.org and Etihad Airways
7 November 2021 (Glasgow, United Kingdom) – Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) announced the Global Biodiversity Standard, the world’s first and only standard to specifically recognise and promote the protection, restoration, and enhancement of biodiversity. The news follows the publication of BGCI’s State of the World’s Trees earlier this year which revealed that one in three tree species are threatened with extinction, representing almost 17,500 tree species.
The Standard is being developed as a response to the climate crisis and the damaging impact tree planting schemes are having on global biodiversity. By promoting the mass planting of non-native species, many well-intentioned land management initiatives are leading to the extinction of species around the world, by introducing new pests, diseases and alien species to ecosystems. As a result, despite being lauded as a solution to the climate crisis, many non-native trees damage ecosystems or fail to survive in their new environments, actively reducing our global climate resilience.
Currently, most certification schemes have failed to address this crisis, permitting the planting of invasive species and providing no incentive to plant native or threatened species. The Global Biodiversity Standard will tackle this problem head on, by recognising and promoting projects that actively protect existing habitats and enhance biodiversity. It aims to provide assurance to governments, financiers of tree-planting, and the public that the reforestation and tree planting efforts they support do not adversely contribute to biodiversity decline but conserve and enhance the natural world.
Announced the day after global leaders discussed nature-based solutions at COP26, the Standard aims to encourage a move away from carbon solutions that ‘plant a tree at any price’ and instead promotes a long-term solution to the climate crisis that puts the right tree in the right place and combines the considerations of biodiversity, local communities, and carbon capture.
The Standard has received early support from some of the largest tree planting organisations, including Ecosia, 1t.org and Plan Vivo as well as corporate sponsors including Etihad Airways. BGCI is now calling for more businesses and tree planting practitioners to join in testing the Standard in real world conditions. By working with BGCI, organisations will be able to access mentoring, knowledge, and data to improve their tree planting and land management initiatives.
All land management initiatives, including habitat restoration, tree planting and agriculture initiatives, will be eligible for certification. Sites will be assessed against criteria based on BGCI and Kew’s 10 Golden Rules for Reforestation paper which outlines how to deliver reforestation that promotes biodiversity recovery, carbon absorption, and socio-economic benefits to local communities. To become certified, initiatives will need to:
- Protect existing habitats and biodiversity.
- Carry out interventions in appropriate areas without displacing natural biodiversity.
- Manage biodiversity in consultation and partnership with local communities and stakeholders.
- Aim to maximize biodiversity recovery through restoration and natural regeneration.
- Refrain from planting invasive alien species.
- Use native species and incorporate threatened species in planting wherever possible.
- Use plant material that is genetically diverse, appropriate and resilient.
- Implement robust monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management of biodiversity.
The Global Biodiversity Standard will aim to bring together the tried and tested knowledge of the global botanical community, with the expertise of local communities, to initiatives across the world. The Standard is among several real-world solutions recently launched by BGCI to address the biodiversity crisis, alongside the Global Tree Portal.
Paul Smith, Secretary General, BGCI:
“Governments, NGOs and businesses have committed to planting trillions of trees over the next five to ten years. These reforestation efforts provide a real opportunity to restore our world’s ecosystems and create a more climate resilient and biodiverse world. Yet if they fail to consider biodiversity – instead opting for planting the cheapest and fastest growing trees — the consequences will be enormous – including mass extinctions of species, the introduction of new pests and diseases, and more extreme weather and unstable ecosystems. This Standard is the world’s first and only certification specific to biodiversity and will provide a mechanism to avoid that scenario.”
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, CBD Secretary General:
“Only 3% of global climate finance is spent on nature-based solutions. It means our solutions to the climate crisis take little account of the natural world and even those that do – like tree planting – are actually failing to increase our climate resilience. This Global Biodiversity Standard will encourage better, more long-term, nature-based solutions to the climate crisis. Solutions that consider carbon absorption, the needs of local communities, as well as biodiversity so that initiatives are more likely to succeed.”
Mariam Al Qubaisi, Head of Sustainability & Business Excellence, Etihad Airways, the Official Airline Partner of the Standard:
“The announcement of a Global Biodiversity Standard is a welcome one for the corporate sector. As carbon offsetting projects gain pace across the world, a Standard that differentiates between projects that protect and enhance native biodiversity with those that accelerate its decline is fantastic. The fact the Standard will also bring much needed local botanical knowledge and training to organisations so they can improve their existing programmes is also particularly welcome.”
Zac Goldsmith, Minister for the International Environment and Climate, and UK Animal Welfare and Forests:
“Protecting and conserving our natural environment is a top priority for the UK, domestically and internationally. In addition to unprecedented levels of international funding, we have committed more than £750 million to restore woodlands, peatlands, and protect local ecosystems across England. This Global Biodiversity Standard, announced a day after Nature day at COP26, is a big step forward in ensuring efforts across the world deliver the best possible solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Baroness Joan Walmsley, House of Lords Science & Technology Committee:
“This is an excellent initiative. Our Committee, in looking at Nature Based Solutions to Net Zero, is concerned that we avoid ill-conceived reforestation projects and, in particular, that the financing landscape and regulations do not have unintended adverse consequences. The expertise provided by this initiative can help to provide the evidence base needed. It is essential that nature-based solutions, focused on climate change and net zero, also serve to protect, restore and enhance biodiversity.”
Pieter van Midwoud, Chief Tree Planting Officer, Ecosia:
“With over 130 million trees planted worldwide, Ecosia understands that good tree planting and restoration projects have strong benefits for communities and biodiversity. Ecosia will be piloting the new Global Biodiversity Standard in selected sites in Peru, Brazil and Kenya. Having the 10 Golden Rules as backbone, this Standard will provide a powerful and science-based framework to quantify the social and biodiversity impact of our projects. Climate protection and biodiversity conservation should go hand in hand and we very much welcome a quality standard for the assurance of this.”
Richard Deverell, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew:
“We are delighted to see this important Standard launched today. The scientific rigour at its core will help to ensure that tree planting is done properly and that it protects both native biodiversity and livelihoods, which is at the heart of our mission at RBG Kew. Several years of collaborative work went into the development of the Ten Golden Rules for Reforestation, addressing some of the more alarming practices happening in the name of climate change mitigation around the world. To have a global standard against which to measure if best practice in this area is being upheld is really positive for nature and for all of us working in plant and fungal science.”
Gerard Donnelly, President and CEO of The Morton Arboretum; Member of the Board of Directors (BGCI); and Chair of the International Advisory Council (BGCI):
“Trees capture carbon as they grow and provide myriad benefits to people and the environment, but the right trees need to be planted in the right places with the right management to fully maximize and realize the benefits. The global botanical garden community—especially arboreta—has a crucial role to play in ensuring that large scale tree planting and restoration efforts effectively capture carbon and ensure that biodiversity is conserved and enhanced, not degraded. This urgently needed global biodiversity standard will leverage the scientific expertise of the expert botanical garden community to ensure that funders, governments, corporations, and the people that rely on healthy forest ecosystems can have confidence in ecologically sound tree planting and restoration projects.”
Domitilla Raimondo, IUCN Species Survival Commission Chair Plant Conservation Committee:
“The IUCN Red List reflects the dire conservation status of trees, with 1 in 3 threatened with extinction. This standard provides the opportunity to contribute to stemming this extinction crisis through facilitating restoration of their habits using appropriate indigenous species, while actively including threatened trees amongst the suite of species included in tree planting initiatives will bolster critically low population numbers and put these species on the path to full ecological recovery.”
Keith Bohannon, CEO Plan Vivo Foundation:
“The Plan Vivo Foundation is excited to partner with BGCI, Ecosia, 1t.org and in-country project partners, on this ambitious initiative. We are fully behind the holistic approach, which aims for better biodiversity, climate and livelihood outcomes, a principle that is core to the Plan Vivo ethos. We see this as a fantastic opportunity to work with global experts to develop ‘real-world’ solutions and approaches to strengthen how we measure biodiversity impact and promote best practice for projects in the conservation / climate space.”
Notes to editors:
As the world’s first Global Biodiversity Standard, the Standard will address the biodiversity crisis by providing:
- Focus on biodiversity: Bringing biodiversity into focus in the form of a global standard
- Recognition: Recognising projects that have a positive impact on biodiversity
- Incentivise: Providing incentives for organisations to incorporate native species into planting and land management programmes.
- Assurance: Providing assurance to governments, financiers of large scale tree planting, and the general public that initiatives are promoting and protecting diversity, not contributing to its decline.
- Knowledge: Providing knowledge, data, and mentoring for policymakers, financiers, brokers and tree planters to develop land management practices that protect, restore and enhance a biodiverse world.
The methodology is designed to be simple and affordable to apply for whilst upholding the most stringent scientific standards and making use of both international and local biodiversity knowledge. Organisations will be asked to complete an online questionnaire requiring documentary evidence. There will also be a remote sensing component and site visit assessment.
Recent scientific papers exploring impact of tree planting on local communities and biodiversity:
- BioScience – Pitfalls of Tree Planting Show Why We Need People-Centered Natural Climate Solutions
- Nature sustainability – Limited effects of tree planting on forest canopy cover and rural livelihoods in Northern India
- ScienceDirect – People plant trees for utility more often than for biodiversity or carbon
- ScienceDirect – The Trouble with Trees: Afforestation Plans for Africa
Photos and case studies of successful and biodiverse reforestation projects available on request