When done correctly, few can argue with the carbon balancing benefits of planting new trees. More trees equals more capacity for carbon absorption after all. But badly planned tree planting activity can sometimes increase atmospheric CO2 levels. A new report from the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) explains why some locations in the UK are a bad idea for tree planting if you want to cut carbon.

According to the report, planting trees into peat bogs would prove a serious mistake. Peat actually locks up vast quantities of carbon and planting new trees will dry them out, thus releasing the carbon stored back into the atmosphere. This can release more greenhouse gases than the trees are able to absorb.

“The mantra has to be ‘the right tree in the right place’. We would be crazy to undertake the massive scale of planting being considered if we did not also consider the wider effects upon the environment.“
Prof Ian Bateman from the University of Exeter and NCC member

Reforesting significant areas of upland pastures in the UK could reduce our ability to produce meat as these lands are primarily used for grazing. This could in turn lead to increased meat imports from other countries with increased carbon impacts as a result of the transport now required. This can very easily negate the carbon absorption from the newly planted trees and actually increase carbon levels overall.

Something else to consider is the loss of our capacity to produce meat in the UK can lead to an increase in imports from places that produce their beef by felling rainforests. It would be catastrophic for the planet to lose standing forests in this way as mature trees absorb a lot more CO2 per year than infant trees. It takes many years for newly planted trees to reach the carbon absorption levels of mature trees so this would almost certainly result in increased atmospheric carbon levels.

The challenge ahead

The report outlines the scale of the challenge to combat climate change through land use policies in the UK.

It says: “These figures make it clear that – far from being an option for major offsetting of emissions from other sectors – the measures will not even mitigate the emissions of the agriculture, land use and peatlands sectors.”

A better solution: protect standing forests

The protection of standing forests is paramount in our fight against climate change and protecting land is something that every business can do through with Carbon Balanced Paper.

The Carbon Balanced Paper initiative encourages companies to use papers and printers that have had their carbon impact balanced by World Land Trust. World Land Trust is an international conservation charity that protects the planet’s most biologically important and threatened standing forests, and the Carbon Balanced programme offsets emissions through the purchase and preservation of high conservation value forests around the globe.

“I’ve always argued that when you’re doing carbon offsetting, it is always better to preserve what we’ve already got, and one of the great things about Carbon Balanced Paper is we use it to avoid deforestation.”
John Burton, founder of World Land Trust

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