Bamboo Production: A Nature-Based Climate SolutionCatherine Webb
Global land use contributes roughly one-quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions, and CO2 emissions resulting from deforestation are heavy contributors. Many sustainable forestry practices can both reduce the intensity of emissions and enhance carbon uptake.
Carbon uptake is also known as carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration on land areas is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide in the soil. Although tree forests have a high potential for carbon sequestration, impact investors look to bamboo production for a multi-faceted climate solution.
Bamboos are giant grasses and are one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. Bamboo is classified as perennials, meaning they can be harvested multiple times throughout their lifespan. There are many ways bamboo production can fight the climate crisis:
The speedy rate at which bamboo grows back after harvest allows bamboo to sequester higher amounts of carbon than most tree plantations in their lifetime.
Replacing Fossil Fuels
Bamboo can be converted into a unique charcoal product with a fuel life similar to teak or eucalyptus but, unlike other charcoals, burns with little to no sparks, odor, or smoke. This biofuel contributes to renewable energy targets and reduces pressure to deforest.
Bamboo supports degraded land restoration because it thrives on damaged soils and steep terrains unsuitable for other crops. Furthermore, bamboo prevents erosion with steady root systems and by acting as windbreaks.
Rapid growth allows for frequent harvesting and provides a year-round income source in the face of uncertain growing conditions resulting from climate change.
Bamboo can produce durable products that are long-lasting, recyclable, and can replace emissions-heavy materials, including aluminum, steel, PVC, and concrete. These products are necessary for a climate-friendly future and will support livelihoods and create economic opportunities.
Climate and Economic Impact
Expanding bamboo production is both feasible and productive because bamboo can thrive on unfavorable and degraded lands. Bamboo is currently growing on 33.5 million hectares. If planted on an additional 69.9 to 174.3 million hectares of degraded forest lands, Project Drawdown estimates that bamboo can sequester an incredible 8.3 to 21.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050. Not included in this number, but of note are the emissions avoided by substituting bamboo for human-made materials, including plastic and concrete.
Furthermore, bamboo production is promising for economic growth. With an initial investment of US$52-162 billion and a lifetime operational cost of US$566-1444 billion, bamboo production could yield a lifetime net profit of US$1707-4348 billion. Overall, bamboo production has incredible potential to support the expansion of a flourishing green economy.
In the last century, land-use change and land-use intensification have contributed to large-scale land degradation. Now, three-quarters of the global ice-free land is under some form of land use. Because bamboo can sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide on lands unsuitable for tree plantations or agricultural production, expanding this venture would be highly impactful.
Although bamboo has incredible potential, its introduction to non-native landscapes should be carefully considered to avoid detrimental impacts on native ecosystems. With adequate environmental planning and capital deployment, impact investors can be at the forefront of fighting the climate crisis with bamboo production.