• Forestation projects a complicated and impartial solution to offsetting carbon emissions, Financial Times article details

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

The Financial Times has published a big read looking at the complications of forestry projects for offsetting carbon dioxide emissions.

A number of ambitious goals have been set to plant trees, both by organisations such as 1t.org (which aims to plant 1 trillion trees by 2030, and is run by the World Economic Forum) and by national governments. Numerous energy companies also have major forestation-related climate mitigation actions  to achieve their net zero targets. The extent to which these projects overlap is unclear, so that a combined total of trees is not possible, but experts consulted by the Financial Times are generally of the view that not enough suitable land is available for the extent of tree planting envisaged – for instance, it may take away from agricultural production, and in doing so displace communities. This issue is tempered somewhat by the fact that tree planting and agriculture can mix to some extent, and that changes in agricultural practice (for instance by reducing reliance on livestock) could allow for additional planting. It is also not usually an immediate issue, with Felix Finkbeiner of Plant-for-the-Planet expressing his view that “we’re nowhere near running out of degraded sites that we could restore.”

Availability of land and displacement of agricultural communities are not the only issues. Another is that in many tree planting programmes, a high proportion of saplings have been found to have died within five years – almost half from a study of 170 forestry projects in Asia, and 90% of 6,000 trees planted by West Norfolk council in England when checked last year. Appropriate care and management are therefore essential, and this is likely to increase costs. Appropriate diversity in planting is another highly important aspect of forestry programmes, as this not only helps to capture more carbon but also helps to promote biodiversity, one of the other key objectives of forestry projects. Mixed planting means some species absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more slowly than others, even if in the long run more carbon is stored.

Governance, transparency, monitoring and accounting are all vital to assuring that projects are worthwhile and successful, in addition to good design and management. Even when successful, however, forestry projects are only expected to contribute a small (but significant) amount of the decarbonisation needed in the coming decades, and those consulted as part of the FT article were unanimous in the view that decarbonisation of operations should be prioritised over the offsetting part of net zero.