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We all know that forests play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the planet and particularly in absorbing carbon, but how exactly does that work, and what are some of our initiatives to protect forests?

What exactly is a forest?

At its broadest level, forests are large areas of trees and undergrowth. They range from untouched virgin forests with complex canopy structures and high levels of biodiversity to secondary forests that have been touched by human activities. Within these categories, the types of forests around the world vary greatly based on climate, geography, and the dominant tree species found there. Some examples include tropical rainforests, boreal forests, and temperate deciduous forests.

What role do forests play in the global carbon cycle?

Regulating the world’s carbon cycle is essential to mitigate climate change and forests play a critical role in that. The carbon cycle refers to the natural processes by which carbon is exchanged between the atmosphere, oceans, soil, and living organisms. These processes include photosynthesis, respiration, decomposition, and the movement of carbon through the planet’s system. It is important to note that forests also release carbon into the atmosphere when trees respire, during fires, and during decomposition.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential to the global carbon cycle. To that end, Musim Mas is committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 as per the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). On the flip side, increasing the uptake of carbon by the preservation and restoration of forests is essential. The role of forests in regulating the world’s climate includes:

A. Carbon sequestration

Trees and other plants in forests act as carbon sequesters, absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. They take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through tiny pores in their leaves called stomata, and they absorb water from the soil through their roots. Using the energy of light, trees convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen that they release back into the atmosphere. The result is a carbohydrate, glucose, which is used for energy. This process helps to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

During respiration, plants use the energy they create and take in oxygen in the process. This process releases carbon dioxide and water back into the atmosphere. However, research has shown that forests sequestered about twice as much carbon as they emitted between 2001 and 2019.[1]

B. Carbon storage

While trees store carbon in their trunks, forest systems contribute to the carbon cycle beyond trees alone. When the leaves, branches, deadwood, and other plant material of trees fall to the forest floor, they become forest litter. Other organisms in the ecosystem, like fungi and bacteria, break them down. Some of the carbon they contain is released back into the atmosphere, while the rest is converted into stable forms and stored in the soil.

Forests store this biomass in the soil, root systems, and undergrowth. Mature forests can store significant amounts of carbon over long periods, becoming carbon sinks. When the trees decompose or when the forests are cleared, this stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, possibly contributing to global warming. Interventions such as sustainable forest practices can help a forest remain as a net carbon sink.

C. Biodiversity support

Forests support a wide range of plant and animal species. Protecting forests helps preserve biodiversity, which in turn influences the carbon cycle and more. Plant biodiversity has been known to researchers to be of importance to the carbon cycle, and more recently, animals, including those supported by forest ecosystems, are also understood to be of importance. For example, mammals present in forests eat the fruit and leaves of the plants and disperse their seeds. In turn, the animals contribute to the propagation of new trees in the forest.

How much carbon can a forest absorb?

The amount of carbon that a tree can absorb can vary drastically based on the type of tree, its age, size, and environmental conditions. However, we’ve also explained that forests absorb more carbon than individual trees. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the world’s forests are believed to absorb about 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in a year, which is about 1.5 times the annual emissions of the United States.[1]

Conversely, land use change and especially deforestation are estimated to contribute 12 to 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon.[2] When forests are cleared, the carbon stored in their biomass and the soil is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Therefore, forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle, which is important when addressing climate change. However, it is important to point out that tree planting and afforestation alone are not sufficient to stop climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary as well.

Musim Mas’ No Deforestation commitment

As a leading sustainable palm oil player, “No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation” is at the heart of Musim Mas’ Sustainability Policy. Musim Mas’ No Deforestation commitment is aligned with the New York Declaration on Forests.

Under The Group’s Sustainability Policy, Musim Mas is committed to no deforestation of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas and High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests. Since 2005, Musim Mas does not develop primary forests or any areas that contain one or more HCVs. HCV identification, conservation, and monitoring have been implemented across our operations. We also conduct HCS and Social and Environmental Impact Assessments before any new land development.

In 2012, Musim Mas was the first major group to be 100 per cent certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for all its plantations with integrated mills in Indonesia. In 2022, Musim Mas, along with 13 other agri-commodity companies, joined the Agriculture Sector Roadmap to 1.5°C facilitated by the Tropical Forest Alliance. This collective initiative aims to halt commodity-linked deforestation.

In 2024, Musim Mas launched its commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 under the SBTi.

Under its philosophy of responsible sourcing, Musim Mas is also committed to a deforestation-free supply chain. The Group achieves this through proactive supplier engagement through workshops and maintains a Risk Management Framework to identify, mitigate, and monitor deforestation risks.

[1] Forests absorb twice as much carbon as they emit each year, World Resources Institute, 2021

[2 ]NASA satellites help quantify forests’ impacts on global carbon budget, NASA, 2021

[3] What is the role of deforestation in climate change and how can ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation’ (REDD+) help?, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2023