Thanks for running the UBoC Carbon Calculator (assuming you have)! Please make a note of your total if you didn’t before, and contact us if you had a problem. And if you already compensate for some of your footprint by planting trees and/or other greenery, don’t forget to make adjustments.
As we said:
The UK average footprint is about 11.12 tonnes of CO2e per person. The US is 20.37, China is 6.23, India is 1.60, and the global average is 5.15 tonnes.
The UK target for 2030, if we are to avoid 1.5 degrees of warming and potential runaway climate change, is 5.5 tonnes of C02e each, and ideally less than that.
What should I do if my footprint’s bigger than I’d like? (This applies to organisations as well as individuals – we all need to halve our emissions).
The first step was to find out your footprint. The second is to try to reduce it.
For individuals, the relatively easy things are; buy green energy, fly a lot less, cut right down on meat, only buy what you really need, and to use your car, water, and the internet as little as possible. Read up on what you can do here. You can then keep checking your progress by running the calculator again.
It’s more complicated for businesses and organisations, but you might try using a tool like this one from Julie’s Bicycle, or a mainstream carbon consultancy.
When you get down as low as you can go without causing major problems for yourself, others near you or your business model, you might want to consider one of four options:
1) The first choice (left to right) is between Official ‘carbon offsetting’ using tree planting (other types of offset are available), or just planting lots of trees in good schemes, such as the the ones we recommend below. We’ll explain the difference in a minute.
2) The second choice (top to bottom) is between either of these in the UK, where you can be more connected with your trees, or in the tropics, where the trees will work harder for the climate.
You might even want to do more than one thing.
At UBoC we tend to promote planting in the tropics over the UK, because tropical trees work much harder for the climate – and we need to draw down that rogue CO2 as fast as we can. (Very fast-growing species in the tropics may achieve 1 tonne per hectare in just a few years or even months, whereas very slow-growing UK species might take half a century or more. Species and location can make a huge difference).
This said, UK trees are still very important, and there are many strong reasons to plant here – not least that you can often go and help put the roots into the ground yourself, or enjoy ‘Wombling’ for tree guards (this can be a summer activity).
In all four cases, UBoC only supports tree-planting that delivers co-benefits to local people, such as water supply, flood management, food, biodiversity, and/or income, as well as carbon.
And please note that when you support a project or offset carbon emissions though us, 100% of your donation goes to the forest project, and we often encourage you to give directly to the scheme. We can afford to do this as our running costs and research are supported by separate donations and lots of good will! Please get in touch if you would like to donate to either a project or our research.
Basically we just need a LOT more trees EVERYWHERE and yet we’re still losing them at an alarming rate – so pick whatever appeals to you and plant as many as you can!
Here’s a bit more detail about offsetting vs uncertified tree planting, with examples of schemes you might like to support in each case in the UK and the topics.
‘Offsetting’ is an official process managed by the UN and monitored by independent bodies, which guarantees (with caveats) that you’ll capture a specific amount of carbon when you purchase carbon credits (one credit represents one tonne of carbon) in a certified scheme. So, technically, we should only use the term ‘Offsetting’ when we are referring to this type of scheme. To achieve certification, an Offsetting project has to be able to guarantee that, 1) their trees will live long enough to deliver the promised carbon (‘permanence’), 2) that they were not going to be planted anyway for some other reason (‘additionality’), and 3) that they are not permitting other emissions somewhere else (‘leakage’). This protection naturally costs money, so if you do decide to invest in a certified Offset scheme, you may wind up spending more money on peace of mind, and less on actual trees. But If you need to be confident that you’re locking away your emissions, as businesses may need to, this is the way to go.
Other types of offset include supporting someone else to reduce their emissions, perhaps by installing renewables, and these schemes can be a lot cheaper. But at UBoC we believe decarbonisation should be paid for by other means, and planting trees is the best way – for now – of dealing permanently with ‘unavoidable’ carbon emissions.
In an Offset scheme, you don’t need to worry about how many trees to plant, because the scheme takes care of all that. They may in fact plant as many 15 or even more trees per tonne of CO2e offset (you can ask if you want to know).The numbers of trees per tonne is complicated by the age of the tree at the time of counting. If we’re talking about seedlings it may be as many as 25, 15 for whips, or fewer if heavy standards are being put in.
The price varies from scheme to scheme, depending on where they are in the world, and what co-benefits they are offering. Tree-based offsets can work out at less than £10 per one tonne carbon credit – hardly a fortune if you are offsetting the average UK footprint of 11 tonnes. Some schemes may cost more, but this is often because they are delivering important co-benefits, so check what the project is delivering, and chose one you feel is worthy of your support.
We support two offset schemes in the tropics on behalf of our corporate and research partners. There are many more, but most will only deal with large quantities for big companies or even countries who want to retire large quantities of carbon. We help partners using our bank of credits with Trees of Hope in Malawi, which is a Plan Vivo scheme, and MJUMITA Community Forest in Tanzania), but please note that we can only retire credits in these schemes on behalf of parters. We don’t have the resources for individuals, who will usually only want to retire a few tonnes per year, so please pick one of these below for personal or family credits.
Offsetting in the Tropics for members of the public. (Organisations; see above):
For offsetting in the tropics (where the trees will do more for the climate more quickly), we recommend Tree-Nation’s Plan Vivo CommuniTree scheme in Nicaragua, and ArBolivia in (guess where)! You’ll be able to search for other projects showing the cloud icon (right) on their website soon.
NB: For logistical purposes, Tree-Nation typically bundles small purchases of carbon credits together, and then retires them in the name of Tree-Nation – rather than listing each individual purchase in the transaction. This means that when you buy credits you’ll receive a certificate listing the tonnes of CO2e you’ve offset, but no individual serial number, shown as retired in your name. Tree-Nation can provide these on request for offset above 50 tonnes CO2e in a transaction
Offsetting in the UK:
There is only one certified scheme in the UK at the moment, called the Woodland Carbon Code. It was developed by the Forestry Commission, with Forest Carbon as a key partner
‘Approved Tree Planting‘
Tree planting without an offset guarantee will theoretically capture the same amount of carbon per tree as one that’s guaranteed. However, while the trees should be cheaper because you’re not paying for the guarantee (so you could capture more carbon by buying more trees for the same money), the down-side is that they may be felled too soon, or die young, or be counted as carbon by someone else etc, thus negating your carbon investment.
If you’re happy to take the risk, here are 3 places where you can plant trees in good non-offset schemes, two in the tropics and one in the UK. We recommending planting as many as possible to allow for inevitable losses, and – why not – to account for past emissions too.
Approved tree planting in the Tropics:
Tree-Nation also offer a wide range of approved tree planting schemes in the topics. These are fun to browse, and you can even see exactly how much carbon each tree you select will capture, along with their other co-benefits.
Approved tree planting in the UK:
For approved tree planting on the UK a good option, with lots of local forests where you can help to plant, is Trees for Cities. We also support a broad range of other tree schemes, especially our own Restoring Hardknott Forest, as well as Treemendous York,Colne Valley Tree People and many other community groups associated with the White Rose Forest.
We also support a broad range of other tree schemes, especially our own Restoring Hardknott Forest, as well as Treemendous York,Colne Valley Tree People and many other community groups associated with the White Rose Forest.
If you’d like to find a scheme near where you live, see the map below, follow Tree Planting UK, Urban Forest 21, or Extinction Rebellion Rewilding on Facebook (we can’t vouch for every scheme of course), or get in touch.
How many trees?
If you choose offsetting you won’t need to worry about this because the scheme will take care of it – but if not, the number of trees you’ll need to plant to be sure of dealing with each tonne of CO2e will vary a lot depending on all sorts of factors like the species, where it’s growing, whether it thrives and so on.
A large mature tree may contain as much as 1 tonne of carbon, so ultimately you need to achieve around 1 new mature tree for every 4 tonnes of CO2e that you emit – because your tree will remove 1 tonne of carbon from every 3.67 tonnes of CO2e (releasing the oxygen and other gases harmlessly back into the atmosphere).
So, if you have the UK current average footprint of 11 tonnes CO2e per year, you’ll need to ‘achieve’ about 3 new large mature trees per year. (Remember that while your trees are reaching maturity, you’ll be responsible for further emissions, so you need to make sure all your trees will grow to full size, and you’ll also to invest every year to cover that year’s emissions).
Don’t forget that ideally each tree will be in a new, permanent forest – so it’s replaced naturally by another, ad infinitum. Otherwise the carbon will just go back into the atmosphere when the last tree dies or is felled – and then either rots or is burned. Planting for carbon is all about changing land use into permanent woodland.
But you can’t just plant one tree and hope it will survive, most trees never make it to maturity, they die, or are damaged, or felled, or are crowded out by bigger trees. So to be sure of getting your 3 mature, naturally-regenerating trees, you need to plant five young trees for each mature one, so that’s 15 trees per year – IF your footprint is the UK average of 11 tonnes of CO2e.
We’re sure you can do the maths!
Furthermore. we suggest you err on the side of caution and plant more like 20 if you can afford to.
Hint: You might want to plant even more trees to help account for your past emissions! 🙂
If you want to go and physically plant trees yourself, you can either just find some land some trees and go do it (it’s sometimes easier to get forgiveness than permission – but not always!), or you can join one of the many volunteer schemes around the UK, such as our partners Trees for Cities, Treemendous York, BEAT, Colne Valley Tree People, etc.
This map might be useful, and/or check websites like Tree Planting UK.
As people often prefer to plant in the UK when their money might be most effectively spent in the tropics, we are currently working to establish a new concept: Forest Twinning, in which two areas from different biomes (usually UK temperate forest and tropical rainforest), are twinned – providing opportunities for new beneficial direct relationships between the two ‘siblings,’ while also allowing supporters to invest in both environments, tailoring their support to deliver optimum impact and outcomes for all three parties.
Download our leaflet on Forest Twinning.