Situated at the heart of the one of the world’s most dense rainforests – the Darien gap – and a region of the Chocó once considered a “no go” zone due to constant fighting between paramilitary groups and guerrillas of the FARC and ELN, Tree Style began working closely with an Afro-Colombian community of 600 families back in 2010.  In one of the most bio-diverse areas of the world the organization’s mission is to prevent deforestation through illegal logging and excessive ranching, and the hugely damaging impacts these practices have on the environment.

Deforestation remains a huge problem in Chocó accounting for a loss of up to 3,000 m2 of rainforest each year.  The combination of logging for timber, small-scale agricultural ranching, mining, the development of energy resources such as hydro-electricity, infrastructure, cocaine production, and farming has meant that only a third of Colombia’s original forest remains today.

Not only does this attack on primary rainforest threaten the existence of hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species, but it also has terrible environmental repercussions as trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so the fewer trees, the greater the speed and severity of global warming.

Emily Roynestad from Washington D.C., became involved with Tree Style back in 2009. She arrived in Colombia the following year and has split her time between Bogotá and Medellin ever since.  Roynestad’s background is in climate change and sustainable development and she has extensive experience working in post-conflict zones around the world.

Her project invests directly in the COCOMASUR community, ensuring they fully understand their group entitlement to land and the responsibilities which come with it.  This community has the legal entitlement to 13,500 hectares, and with Tree Style’s help and investment now has the confidence and physical ability to deal with the state in terms of challenges to their land holdings.

Roynestad explained that this project is a strong example of a functioning “peace process” as the community they are working with, had to learn to live next to neighbours who had once encroached on their land.

Tree Style’s project is certified by the international Verified Carbon Standard which puts rigorously scientific methodologies to use, determining the exact amount of carbon that can be prevented from emission into the atmosphere by protecting primary rainforest.  So far the project has saved 215,802 trees from being cut down and has avoided the emission of 193,409 tons of CO2.

The project has protected over 42 endangered animal species and 15 plant species as well as creating over 40 sustainable jobs.  However, this project also provides direct benefits to the community in monetary terms by the selling of carbon credits to various companies in Colombia and elsewhere. A carbon credit is a generic term for a tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide or the equivalent mass of another greenhouse gas.

The logic follows that if one ton of CO2 is produced in a given locality and in another part of the world a ton of production is avoided, the two cancel each other out.  In a push to make carbon-heavy businesses more sustainable, the marketing of carbon credits is an interesting concept.

The money that is raised through this project is reinvested into the community through sustainable energy production projects, environmentally-friendly farming techniques and other initiatives in an attempt to encourage the community to respect and look after their land.

Tree Style’s project is a positive example of a sustainable future of Colombia’s forests.  Having had a encouraging response from the  Colombian business community, they are confident that this 30 year-long project on will keep gathering strength.