Friday 23 June 2006

Reforestation is not a Carbon Offset

Read an interesting lead article in New Internationalist (July, 2006) which highlighted some of the greenwash that's occuring when tree planting is sold as an effective carbon offset.

The problem is that burning fossil fuels permanently adds CO2 to the carbon cycle while carbon storage in trees is strictly temporary. In the long run, it doesn't help. These scheme's also tend to fund mono-culture mega-plantations and exacerbate local land disputes. Or sometimes, the planted tree's just die in poorly run scheme's. More info at SinksWatch and FERN.

So if you do buy into carbon offsets, check where your funds really are going. For example, 20% of funds given to Climate Care goes to a reforestation project in Uganda.


  1. I couldn't find any information at those sites about why reforestation is not a carbon offset. Surely for the life of the tree they lock up a certain amount of carbon and are continually absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. What am I missing?

  2. Yes I was surprised at first too. On the surface, treeplanting sounds good but it's a misleading approach.

    When you burn oil, coal or gas you know with great certainty exactly how much CO2 is being released.

    Planting a tree offers very little certainty of carbon sequestration. It varies based on species, climate and health of the tree. Carbon again gets released when the tree rots, or worse, gets burned.

    Granted, for a short period, the tree does some good converting CO2 to oxygen.

    However, the idea that we can carry on burning fossil fuels and enjoying our current lifestyle by just paying a little more for some trees to get planted doesn't add up. It's Enroneque accounting.

    For one thing, by some calculations, there's not enough land to offset all those emissions. So, it the long run, it's not an answer. Carbon reduction is.

    Here are two interesting articles on the topic. I'll try to find more later.

  3. True reforestation, bringing back lost or degraded forests, can play a significant role in reducing atmospheric carbon. Of course it should be combined with reduction of emissions, particularly those from fossil fuels. The key concept that this analysis misses is that the carbon cycle of trees is a renewable and sustainable one, whereas burning fossil fuels is undoing all that the eons of carbon storage plants have sequestered into the earth, making the planet more habitable.

  4. Sorry but this argument is totally bogus.

    Not only is reforestation a Carbon Offset, it is the ONLY carbon offset!

    The argument that carbon sinks are not effective is like saying that bank accounts are not effective.

    The idea with a bank account is not that you have to keep every single dollar in it. The concept is that money flows in and out and if it is properly managed over time the account will grow.

    This is how we need to think about carbon sequestestation.

    We have a series of articles on this topic for those that are interested. We have some hard hitting articles on the subject that we will be posting in the next few days.