If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? One day it could be tagged, verified and stored on an immutable blockchain. But until then your guess is as good as mine…

According to Woodland Trust the UK’s native woods and trees are subject to a barrage of coinciding threats from direct loss to more insidious influences such as climate impacts, imported diseases, invasive plants, and air pollutants. 

In its annual state of the nation report, published late last year Woodland Trust argues not nearly enough is being done to create high quality and resilient native woodlands as part of larger ecological networks.

It also highlights the need to improve the evidence. Reliable data is required to build a foundational baseline that enables closer monitoring of what is happening on the ground.

Woodland Trust believes complete and regularly update baseline inventories are required to accurately identify gains and losses. It is then essential these datasets are made easily accessible to increase the level of trust and in turn help target action.

For this to happen important data gaps need to be addressed, such as levels of soil carbon in woodland.

This will require regular woodland and tree monitoring to identify threats early, improve woodland quality, and enhance the long-term survival of trees outside designated woods.

Looking outside of the UK, forests were also front and center throughout COP26. At the UN’s prestigious climate summit 137 countries committed to collectively end forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

Companies and investors also pledged to support a transition to more sustainable land-use within their supply chains and financial portfolios. 

In the short-term companies are turning to carbon offsetting as the easiest way to lessen their impact on the planet, purchasing credits from managed forests that guarantee the sequestration of a similar or larger amount of carbon each year. 

Airlines like easyJet are marketing the fact that the fuel from every flight is offset through other sustainable means. But it recognises it’s not without its problems: “We are aware that carbon offsetting is not a long-term solution, but we believe it currently represents the best way to compensate for the impact of the carbon emitted from flying. It’s part of our drive to become a more sustainable airline.” 

Friends of the Earth say such offsetting schemes are ‘a dangerous distraction from the much more pressing need to wean ourselves completely off fossil fuels’. Researchers at Lancaster University calculated the real-world impact of offsetting, and in their worst-case scenario, found they could lead to an additional 1.4°C of global heating!

While the debate rages on, millions of hectares of land are being acquired by investment firms and speculators who eye a lucrative return by planting trees to then trade the resulting carbon credits. 

In October 2021 Bluesource, a US-based corporate climate advisor, teamed up with Oak Hill Advisors, an alternative investment firm (with more than $50 billion in assets) to launch a $500 million joint venture to purchase over one million acres of forest land – which they claim they will manage ‘more sustainably’. 

To have any meaningful impact countries, companies and NGOs are going to need to work together to drive system change. 

But for this to happen, companies must be held accountable for delivering the green pledges they make. In our view at ubloquity, this is going to require a revolution in how the world currently checks its own homework. 

Traditional approaches to validating sustainability claims – such as an annual spot check or paper-based analysis are simply not going to cut it. 

But what if we harnessed technology? Satellite imagery; remote drone footage; nano RFID tags on trees; soil sensors; CO2 detectors. 

Continuous, verifiable data feeds, creating a high-definition picture of 1m acres of forest in real time, 24/7, 365 days of the year. All stored on an immutable distributed ledger (aka a blockchain) that can be interrogated by any authorised auditor or official from the comfort of their home.

We look forward to a time that when a tree falls, the sound will be heard, monitored and tracked. Only then can we be truly confident our woods and forests are safe and secure, and any carbon credits generated are worth the recycled paper they’re written on.