“We planted the forests, but now they are burning.” This is what the Director of Carbon Dioxide at Microsoft said at an online event organized by the think tank Carbon 180. Forests funded by companies such as Microsoft and BP have been burned in Washington and Oregon in the United States. This way they try to offset their own carbon dioxide emissions.
It is not yet clear how much carbon dioxide offsets are lost with hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests burned. There are still fires going on. But BP alone has more than $100 million in carbon credits in one of the affected projects.
Planting trees is a popular way for companies around the world to achieve their climate goals. Living trees absorb carbon dioxide and in this way emissions from companies’ use of fossil fuels are offset.
Shell, for example, is back in the woods after years of absence. The European Union’s climate plans presented in July also include a plan to plant 3 billion trees.
Companies such as Trees for All Dutch Green Business Group offer opportunities to purchase one or more carbon dioxide offset trees or forests. You already have such a tree with amounts starting from 3.50 € per month.
space is missing
Environmental organizations criticize this method of achieving climate goals. According to Oxfam Novib, there is not enough space in the world to plant all these trees.
According to the organization, an area twelve times larger than the Netherlands alone is needed to plant new trees in order to realize the climate plans of four major European energy companies (Shell, BP, Eni and Total) in this way.
“We are in favor of afforestation, but not on this scale,” says climate expert Marietta Hotges of Oxfam Novib. “Because that’s not how it works. Companies consider themselves rich very quickly.”
Forest program coordinator Marijn van der Pas of Milieudefensie describes it as the wrong way to think if you want to offset forest CO2 emissions.
“In the United States, we see it as providing monocultures of inexpensive, fast-growing tree species, which are also fire-sensitive.”
He calls today’s bushfires something that “makes you pessimistic.” “Some of the forests there have been burning for a month.”
Wildfires are becoming more frequent, in part due to global warming. Five percent of the world’s forests catch fire every year. These are ancient primeval forests as in Russia and planted forests as in the United States.
This also releases the carbon dioxide stored by the trees at once. This equates to about one-fifth of the emissions we all produce through fossil fuels.
In the United States, this means that companies have to compensate in a different way. Legislation in California is increasing the amount of make up forest in the western United States. Van der Pas: “It’s really work there.”
Also in Europe?
Forestry expert Gert Jan Nabors of Wageningen University believes that this type of forest will also grow in Europe, thanks to the European Union’s Green Deal.
Sees two types of forest for this. “Pure offset forests and commercial plantations with forests that must produce timber in the long term. They absorb CO2 for decades.”
Unlike Oxfam Novib, he believes there is room for it. “There is enough marginal land in the areas from which people have been displaced.”
It could also be in regions where there are now many wildfires, such as Greece and Italy. “You then have to choose species that are less sensitive to fires and cause wildfires,” says Nabors. “Because wildfires are a growing problem.”
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