Keegan Eisenstadt, Global Practice Lead for Nature-Based Solution Sourcing
Keegan Eisenstadt recently joined South Pole as Global Practice Lead for Nature-Based Solution Sourcing, tasked with growing our nature-based solutions offerings. We were told that he possesses an infectious optimism, so we sat down with him to find out about the role that nature, cow burps, and thinking big have in helping to save the world.
Keegan, you've been brought on board to ramp up our nature-based solutions sourcing globally. What are these "NBS" and what role do they have to play when it comes to climate action?
Using nature-based solutions means using the highly evolved ecosystems of planet Earth to help stabilize and rehabilitate our climate while promoting and protecting the natural systems that keep the Earth safe. We're talking things like forests, wetlands, and grasslands, which really are quite amazing at capturing and storing carbon. These systems are under threat across our entire planet, however, and developing projects that utilize nature-based solutions means getting humans actively engaged in their conservation.
What were you doing before this, and why did you join South Pole?
I founded ClearSky Climate Solutions LLC., a US-based company that looks and feels like South Pole in many ways. I have been working on climate solutions consulting for companies, project development and sourcing of carbon credits, trading and brokerage… and I did this for 20+ years, registering roughly 40 carbon projects over that time, with 30 of them in NBS-related sectors. It was very fulfilling and it is a successful company, but it didn't get to that next level of impact and scale that South Pole has.
We are inching closer and closer to a climate catastrophe and I feel an urgency to invest my time, energy, and expertise in bringing about effective mitigation. South Pole is in a very expansive phase right now, bringing all the available climate tools to bear on seeking solutions. That combination offers what I see as the best opportunity for me to use my years of experience to have the greatest impact and reach my personal climate goal, if I can call it that. And it's the perfect moment to do so… the world is finally waking up, and now it's go time.
What is your personal climate goal?
It may be ambitious, but I would love to be involved in getting a GIGATONNE of carbon to the market through projects that I've been affiliated with. The planet needs around 7 gigatonnes of mitigation, and we need it soon! As far as I can see, NBS is the only engine we have right now that can realistically deliver about 3.5 of those. Nothing else comes close.
And where do you see the most potential for South Pole to continue growing in the NBS space to make this happen? Where can we push the envelope into new areas?
The NBS space includes a very creative, knowledgeable, and rational suite of professionals who are always considering ways we can improve. There are a few really cool examples of how this is happening.
The first golden rule of NBS is to protect what is already there! Existing forests are vital to the functioning of the planet. These forests and their many services - carbon sequestration, water purification, biodiversity habitats, flood control, varied natural resources, wood products, non-timber forest products, sources of medicine, cultural, religious and social values, and on and on - are key to keeping the planet cool. The lungs of the Earth end up not just supplying oxygen, but also dramatically regulate climate cycles by sequestering so much carbon. South Pole is developing new relationships with forest stakeholders and resource owners to promote activities that reduce pressure to cut down forests and instead conserve and enhance them through REDD+ programs. Conservation is a major component to climate mitigation and the novel and creative ways that we can achieve these goals with new and varied partners is the key to our success or failure. Examples of novel approaches abound, but we must maintain a laser-like focus on their relation to reducing the pressures on existing, intact ecosystems. We are nature and nature is us.
Here's a new approach. Have you heard of mass lumber or engineered wood products? Using wood, we can create roof joists for buildings that are as strong as steel, weigh 10% as much, and we can do it from tree species that don't need to be in the ground for a century first, but can be harvested after even just seven to ten years and be used for their fibre. Using wood to build our buildings means we're storing carbon in the actual structures, and we're also avoiding the emissions that we would have had by mining steel or producing concrete, essentially replacing an industry that emits with one that sequesters.
Or let's take cows for example. They burp a lot of methane! But we like to eat cows, and as the global standard of living goes up, there are more people that want to eat beef. So what can we do? There are new methodologies that look at food additives to reduce these troublesome cow burps, or it turns out you can actually feed cows algae or seaweed, which is a win-win. Not only do we sequester carbon in the feedstock biomass, but feeding cows seaweed can reduce their methane emissions by as much as 90%! Additionally, farming seaweed for fodder will free up massive tracts of agricultural land that we use to grow crops for cows to eat, and which we can instead use for - you guessed it - planting more trees to store more carbon.
Engineered wood products in the UBC Forest Science Centre, Vancouver, Canada. Image obtained from https://www.flickr.com/photos/rkeetch/2196084117/in/photostream/ through Creative Commons license.
So what's holding us back from doing this already?
There are two things holding us back: failure to believe, and thinking too small.
A lot of humans have trouble believing that their lifestyles are changing the planet. It's also hard for governments to believe that their voters really care about it. But there is a sea change happening right now and the conversation has shifted. The last ten to twelve months are measurably different than the previous ten to twelve years. Climate change is now at the top of many voters' priority lists, and climate-conscious governments are getting elected time and time again. Businesses are seeing that their clients and customers care about ESG safeguards and that they need to walk the talk on sustainability.
When it comes to thinking too small, the pandemic has shown us that there are threats that we don't even recognize that can ruin us, and we have really finally started to realize that we are all co-dependent, global citizens and species. Look at how quickly we developed monitoring protocols, preventative measures, and vaccines for Covid-19. We are a unique species in our ability to learn and adapt, and we need to harness our ability to do this, to come up with creative solutions, and roll them out across the planet as rapidly as we've rolled out global pandemic measures.
And how can South Pole and the voluntary carbon market help this to happen?
There are tons of solutions in the NBS world with thousands of pieces of the puzzle that we're still learning about. The question is whether the development of solutions can happen fast enough to get things to scale in time to make a difference. And I think we can. One of the key differences now is that demand for credits in the voluntary carbon market is extraordinary and unlike anything we've seen for the last twenty years. That means the private sector is responding and we're now seeing a sellers market when it comes to carbon credits. This is a massive change that hugely increases the scale that the market is able to reach, which ultimately means more investment to fuel more solutions, including some of the more creative and innovative ones that until now we have only been dreaming of. This is exactly where South Pole is active, and I can't wait to see where we are in only two or three years from now.