Bayano-McGill Reforestation Project

The Bayano-McGill Reforestation Project is McGill’s flagship carbon offsetting research project led by the McGill Office of Sustainability, the traditional Indigenous authorities of the Congreso General Emberá de Alto Bayano, and the Indigenous women’s NGO, Asociación de Mujeres Artesanas de Ipetí-Emberá (AMARIE) in Panama.  

The project is a collaboration with Dr. Catherine Potvin, Professor in the Department of Biology and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests (Tier 1).  

With Instructor Julie Major, undergraduate interns of the Panama Field Study Semester (PFSS) will monitor tree growth in the field. Dr Potvin will support research by graduate students in Biology and Geography. 

Since 2020, there have been: 

44,500 trees planted
1,014 tonnes of CO₂e offset
44 local families participating

Last updated November 2022.


McGill University seeks to take accountability for its institutional air travel emissions via its own dedicated, research-driven offsetting project, thus contributing to its long-term target of carbon neutrality by 2040.


By sequestering carbon, the project will help reduce McGill's institutional carbon footprint while strengthening its environmental and social sciences research and providing benefits to collaborating local communities.


McGill University purchases seedlings and provides the finances needed to plant and maintain the reforested area in Panama over the long term.  

A Governance Committee ensures a fair-trade price is maintained, local communities are consulted, and the project respects all agreed-upon principles. It includes:

  • Three individuals representing the communities: the nokos (local chiefs) from Ipetí- and Piriatí-Emberá, and the cacique general (regional chief) 
  • One individual representing AMARIE
  • One individual representing the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)

The governance committee meets yearly to review, among other subjects:

  • The price of a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO₂e) 
  • Previous year's plantations
  • Community participation and feedback
  • Updated scientific research relevant to the project

Project Partners

Congreso General Emberá de Alto Bayano

The General Congress consists of the traditional authorities of the Ipetí- and Piriatí-Emberá communities in eastern Panama. They help ensure free, prior, and informed consent of the communities and participating households. 

Asociacion de Mujeres Artesanas de Ipetí Emberá (AMARIE)

AMARIE is a non-governmental organization founded by women of the Indigenous community of Ipeti-Emberá in eastern Panama. The organization produces and sells handicrafts.  

In the Alto Bayano watershed, Emberá women walk for hours to the remotest parts of the Panamanian jungle to collect plants that give natural colour and life to their hand-crafted art. The tradition of craft-making symbolizes and preserves the essence of Emberá culture and has been passed down through generations of women artisans. 

AMARIE also supports research in eastern Panama in collaboration with McGill and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). 

Panama Field Study Semester

PFSS is a joint venture between McGill University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). Students live for up to four months in Panama, taking courses that specifically address Latin American social and tropical environmental issues. By bringing students in contact with another reality, we help them build a new, more pluralistic vision of the world’s environment and help prepare them to play a positive role in tomorrow’s society. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the project timeline?

McGill will provide funds to AMARIE for a fixed minimum volume of offsets from 2020 to 2022. Trees planted in that time will be maintained for 25 years. After 2022, the parties can renew the original agreement up until 2045. 

What is the difference between carbon offsets and carbon credits?

Carbon offsets are reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are typically achieved when an institution purchases and thereby claims the carbon sequestered by a third party. Offsets are generated and sold through the voluntary market; purchasing them is not a regulatory requirement. Investing in offsetting projects is a way for an organization to reduce its net emissions, beyond its own direct emission reduction efforts, and can often lead to co-benefits for partner communities. 

Carbon credits are instruments typically linked to regulated, cap-and-trade markets, whereby countries or companies have an allowance of credits that can be used toward their cap (limit). These credits can be sold, held, or traded to other entities that are producing emissions above their cap. Credits represent reductions in metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO₂e) achieved via company activities. 

Both offsets and credits reduce an organization’s emissions and help mitigate climate change. 

References: Difference Between Carbon Offsets and Carbon Credits; How Carbon Credits and Offsets Help the Environment

How will the project be verified?

As part of the project agreement, various levels of verification are planned to ensure project integrity. Local project coordinators were tasked in Year 1 (2020) to verify measurements of sampled trees and calculate carbon accumulation for each plot following regular visits to reforestation sites. Student researchers also participate in monitoring activities and ensure that project participants’ involvement is compliant with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) through free, prior and informed consent. A representative of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute brings additional scientific perspectives on local carbon modalities to the Governance Committee. Finally, further opportunities to have part of the project verified internally or by third parties are under investigation.

Why are we planting trees in Panama?

Tropical forests grow at a much faster rate than northern, temperate forests, such as those in Canada, and have a greater potential for storing carbon (Beer et al. 2010; Locoselli et al. 2020). Meanwhile, globally, most deforestation is occurring in the tropics (Ritchie & Roser 2021).  

Professor Potvin’s Neotropical Ecology: Science for Empowerment lab has developed a collaborative relationship over 25 years with the Emberá of eastern Panama, studying biodiversity and conservation, forest carbon stocks, and Indigenous land uses and livelihoods via participatory action research. Thanks to these long-term collaborations, McGill researchers have become key research partners with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. Students visit and conduct research in Panama via the Panama Field Study Semester (PFSS) undergraduate program, and the Neotropical Environment Option (NEO) and Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Sustainability (BESS) graduate programs.

Can I contribute to the project?

Currently, it is only possible to contribute to the Bayano-McGill Reforestation Project via interfund transfer. See how to contribute on our Offsetting Program page.

Back to top