Environmental issues are one of the core tenets of the Candriam Institute for Sustainable Development, which leads the company’s philanthropic initiatives.
Deforestation in both the developed and developing world is ravaging the planet and driving up carbon emissions. Having focused on climate and climate-related issues such as deforestation within its investment strategy, it was a logical move for Candriam to become a business partner to WeForest, a non-profit organization that works with communities, local organizations and NGOs to develop scalable reforestation projects.
Jessica Chalmers, director of partnerships at WeForest, explains the difference that corporate and investor support for reforestation is making to local communities while, at the same time, playing a major role in combating climate change.
“Forests are one of the best short-term and cost-effective solutions we have to removes CO2 from the atmosphere,” Chalmers explains.
Trees not only provide vital supplies of oxygen and remove carbon from the atmosphere, they also provide habitats for wildlife, promote biodiversity, support water supplies and help maintain healthy soils that increase harvests, thereby feeding millions.
Different solutions for different needs
WeForest currently has 49,000 hectares under restoration—equivalent to 61 million trees and nearly 60,000 football pitches—across 14 geographies. “Our ambitious goal is to regenerate 100,000 hectares - growing around 100 million trees by 2025,” Chalmers declares.
“But the routes to restoring forest and the needs of local communities vary so a ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t work,” she notes. “Instead, we tailor the restoration model to each location.”
The magic of mangroves
Mangroves are one of the most interesting ecosystems on the planet. They are tropical trees that thrive in conditions most timber could never tolerate—salty, coastal waters, and the interminable ebb and flow of the tide. With the ability to store vast amounts of carbon, mangrove forests are key weapons in the fight against climate change but in recent decades, they have been decimated due to the establishment of shrimp farming and palm oil plantations and recurring droughts in many countries.
“These trees are invaluable to local communities, acting as buffers to keep saltwater from flooding agricultural lands to absorbing greenhouse gases to providing food for myriad types of fish that are food sources for local communities.” Chalmers explains.
Senegal is home to around 185,000 hectares of mangrove estuaries. But their use for firewood, construction wood and charcoal has led to around 25% of the country's mangrove forests being lost. Droughts in the 1970s and 1980s also devasted the mangroves.
But a major reforestation program is now underway. Candriam is supporting a project in Senegal which will restore the Casamance mangroves in Senegal, planting 494 hectares of mangroves—over two million trees—the equivalent of nearly 600 football pitches. The tree planting will be done by local people under the supervision of WeForest. Local communities are fully engaged in the process from initiation to planting and monitoring.
Jessica Chalmers, director of partnerships, WeForest
“Candriam’s support of this project on a purely philanthropic basis gives a real boost to the local communities who rely on mangroves,” says Chaimers. “Many investors who invest in these projects want a return on their investment– usually carbon credits. In Candriam’s case, the carbon credits that are generated can provide long term future funding to benefit local people.”
Chalmers has noted a recent uptick of interest for companies in supporting reforestation programs. But from a philanthropic perspective, support for climate action is still very low. According to the ClimateWorks foundation, less than two percent of all philanthropic funding was targeted to climate initiatives in 2020.
But she is hopeful that more businesses are taking reforestation seriously and that by restoring the mangroves, sustainable fishing and farming activities can be re-established to help local communities thrive.