Are you spending money on carbon credits? No doubt you've checked the credits are verified and meet high environmental standards. But have you thought about how they're generated?

Protect > Manage > Restore is gaining traction in the environmental world as a guide for choosing the most effective carbon-reduction projects.

Put simply, it's about prioritising existing ecosystems over creating new ones.

Here's the lowdown:

🥇 Protect our existing ecosystems

Mature ecosystems store large amounts of carbon, remove additional carbon from the atmosphere, and often support high biodiversity. It can take centuries to recover the carbon and wildlife that’s lost when they’re disturbed or destroyed.

Protecting ecosystems under threat is a relatively fast and cost-effective way to reduce global carbon emissions, with many co-benefits such as maintaining biodiversity, preserving costal defences and supporting local livelihoods. While restricting land use can potentially limit the local economy, increasingly projects work alongside governments to balance conservation with economic development.

🥈 Manage the land responsibly

Next in the hierarchy is improving land management, through more environmentally sensitive farming and forestry practices. This covers a wide range of recommended practices around the world, from hedgerow expansion to wildfire management and controlled timber harvesting to sustainable mangrove fisheries.

Although this might have limited application and won't solve the climate crisis on its own, it has an important role to play in removing additional carbon from the atmosphere and improving soil health, water quality and biodiversity.

🥉 Restore what's been destroyed

Restoration (e.g. planting trees, creating peatland, transplanting mangroves) can capture carbon, improve water quality, protect coastal areas from erosion and increase biodiversity. In some areas, it’s the only solution available. However, it’s often the most costly option and - if it requires change of land use - can create social and economic problems locally.

Restored land can also take many years to absorb the same amount of carbon as mature ecosystems. Plus, there’s always a risk that newly restored ecosystems could be degraded or repurposed in the future.

Final thought

One solution is not ‘better’ than another - they complement each other and are all vital to combat the climate crisis.

However, having already destroyed so much of our natural environment, we must protect and manage what’s left - as well as restore what’s lost - to ensure a viable future.

So next time you choose a carbon project, remember: Protect > Manage > Restore!