Apr 14, 2021

Trees and carbon offsetting

A client paid us a very nice compliment about our Energy White Paper response[1].  They also asked whether they should sign up to a tree planting scheme.  We’ve been asked about this topic a few times, so we checked the scheme and shared our thoughts.

Tree planting will undoubtedly absorb CO2 emissions, and this kind of scheme falls into the “offset” approach.  However, offsetting is fraught with difficulties (e.g. additionality – would it have happened anyway) and is generally meant to be the last thing to do after you have reduced CO2 emissions as much as possible.  The Government’s guidance on offsetting gives a steer:

  • Additionality – Projects must demonstrate that they have produced a saving in carbon that would not have happened otherwise
  • Avoiding leakage – The project must demonstrate that it has not caused an increase in carbon emissions elsewhere
  • Permanence – forestry projects are at risk of disease or fire
  • Validation and verification – The project must receive independent verification
  • Timing – Carbon credits must only have been issued from the project after the emissions reduction has taken place.
  • Avoiding double counting – A registry must be used to register, track and permanently cancel credits to avoid double counting or double selling
  • Transparency – Credits should be supported by publicly-available information on a registry to set out the underlying projects, the quantification methodology applied, independent validation and verification procedures, project documentation, proof of credit ownership and date of retirement of credits.

The scheme offered to plant trees in Madagascar and looked genuine enough and they did offer to send verification reports, however their calculations on carbon saved per tree planted didn’t tally very well with calculations we have done previously, using Government based guidelines.  As a charitable / CSR scheme, and if you have the money, then by all means donate to similar tree planting schemes.  However, for local carbon reduction it’s better to reduce emissions from homes and operations and then think of off-setting when it becomes more mainstream.

Having said all that, local tree planting (i.e. not in Madagascar) does bring huge benefits.  As well as carbon sequestration, high levels of tree planting bring summer cooling, flood attenuation, air quality improvement, recreational benefits and increased biodiversity.  The direction of travel of regulation and other environmental reporting is that improvement in local green spaces and biodiversity is coming.

We have developed metrics for green spaces and biodiversity that will make reporting manageable and allow you to align with Government targets.  Please get in touch if you’d like to know more. Visit: Contact.

[1] “Thanks for publishing your article on the Energy White Paper on Linked In – it was a really good read and one we are sharing with our Board.”