Tree planting for net-zero: get ‘Wood Wise’ with UBoC and the Woodland Trust

In the Spring 2020 issue of ‘Wood Wise’ from the Woodland Trust, UBoC’s Dr Cat ScottProfessor Piers Forster and Professor Dominick Spracklen discuss how tree cover targets can help us address greenhouse gas emissions. 

We’ve seen increasing coverage of tree planting in the media, and so many organisations pledging to plant trees to reduce their carbon footprint. But what is the science behind the tree planting targets? Piers, Cat and Dom spoke to the Woodland Trust about UK woodland creation, and how this can contribute to national and international climate targets. 

Trees are a major sink of greenhouse gases, and the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement recognised the need to strike a balance between reducing anthropogenic emissions and increasing sinks. Ambitious pathways to limit warming below 1.5°C degrees require us to not only reduce emissions, but also enhance the carbon sinks we have, in order to offset residual emissions that cannot be reduced in compatibility with the 1.5°C target. 

Speculative pathways for limiting warming to 1.5°C involve trees in three key ways: woodland creation, forest regeneration and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). As part of efforts to mitigate climate change, it is also vital that we address deforestation, which contributes significant proportions of annual global CO2 emissions, and reduces the terrestrial carbon sink capacity. 

A major difficulty is land availability. The scale of planting, regeneration and crop cover needed to meet the more sustainable climate pathways requires huge changes to land use, with potential trade-offs for other natural and man-made systems, such as biodiversity and food supply. However, woodland creation can also bring many co-benefits to people and planet, such as improved air quality and enhanced biodiversity. 

In 2019, the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommended a 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target, which included a target of 30,000-50,000 hectares per year of woodland creation. By 2050, it is estimated that this scale of planting, supported by better management, could deliver annual CO2  uptake of 20 million tonnes. In addition, many co-benefits can be delivered if the right tree is planted in the right place. But the planting targets are not without difficulties, with many competing land uses, opportunity costs, and potential for double counting.

If you’d like to read more about these issues, the full article can be accessed here

To learn more about the UK CCC planting targets, see our previous blog here.