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What is ‘nature-based carbon removal’ and is it any better than carbon offsets?

An aerial view of workers among a field of tree saplings.
Workers plant trees at an ecological afforestation demonstration zone on April 11, 2023. | Photo: Getty Images

Big tech companies are increasingly turning to nature to do the dirty work of cleaning up their greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is to use plants and ecosystems that naturally absorb CO2 to compensate for industry pollution, a tactic brands have come to call “nature-based carbon removal.”

At first glance, these attempts sound a lot like carbon offset projects that have a checkered past. For decades, companies have purchased credits from offset projects to try to cancel out some portion of their carbon footprint, typically by planting trees, restoring or protecting ecosystems that sequester CO2 through photosynthesis.

It all sounds green and dandy on paper. But studies have shown that this strategy repeatedly fails to have any…

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