Plant trees, but remember: nature is more than a carbon sink

Pledges to plant billions of trees are great for climate change, but biodiversity and other benefits of nature also have a value worth calculating.

Photo: Shutterstock, by Pat Lauzon.

The federal government pledge to plant 2 billion trees over 10 years has garnered considerable attention from Canadians eager to find solutions to the climate crisis. Planting trees is intuitively attractive: if trees soak up carbon, why not plant more? But ensuring best value for money turns out to be complicated.

In February, US President Donald Trump elevated attention around tree planting by committing to join the global “Trillion Tree Initiative” in his 2020 State of the Union address. Republican lawmakers proposed legislation soon afterwards, setting a goal for the United States to plant a trillion trees by 2050 as a “fossil fuel-friendly climate fix.”

These tree-planting pledges have come on the heels of a key report by world scientists pointing to the importance of forests and lands in regulating climate. Governments, it argued, should do a better job of leveraging nature as part of the solution to climate change.

But as we move to harness nature’s ability to help fight climate change, we need to be mindful of the other crucial services that nature provides, including biodiversity. Building these values into decision-making frameworks such as cost-benefit analyses is not straightforward.

This is because the “value” we get for our funding dollars extends beyond carbon sequestration, and includes habitat for plants and animals, protection for species at risk, flood and heat-wave protection, and cleaning water and air, among others. There are also recreational values and income for local communities to consider. Ignoring these other values in climate-change policy would be a bad idea.

It’s not that governments don’t respect these other values (the government has doubled down on international targets and now aims to protect 30 percent of Canada’s land by 2030) but there is generally no price on nature or explicit market value.

And so, choosing the right projects becomes an issue when we don’t assign explicit values within our conservation, biodiversity or resilience-related goals. This means that projects could be ruled out because of high carbon costs even when they have high values in other areas. For example, wetland restoration would do little to ease climate change but could improve biodiversity and stormwater management, reducing the risk of flooding.

Likewise, policies that aim to give harvested wood products a boost will be highly effective at sequestering carbon and help develop local resources, but could ignore biodiversity outcomes.

Adverse impacts are also possible without strong safeguards in place. Obviously, planting trees on natural grasslands or harvesting old-growth forests to plant faster-growing trees could be good for climate but would devastate existing ecosystems.

So how can we make sure that our climate change policies are also good for nature?

For one, we need to see beyond the trees. There are other landscapes good at sequestering carbon that offer considerable co-benefits, including wetlands, grasslands, agriculture lands and coastal ecosystems. Coastal ecosystems, for example, sequester and store significant amounts of carbon but also offer a slew of other natural benefits including providing diverse habitats, protecting coastal communities from flooding and storm surge events, and preventing coastal erosion. Grasslands provide important habitat for many of Canada’s species at risk.

Second, most academic research on carbon stocks and fluxes shows that it is much better to keep what you already have than to give it up – through economic activities – and then try to restore it through tree planting or land regeneration. Lands and forests can also be a large source of greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbated by forest fires, pest infestations and human activity such as resource extraction and exploration.

When policies are designed to protect what we already have, we immediately avoid the greenhouse gas emissions that would have otherwise been produced. For example, 35,000 hectares of Canada’s peatlands have already been drained, releasing significant emissions. (Peat is used in horticulture, among other things.) Conservation tactics would offer immediate benefits. Restoring what we once had (in this case, rewetting peatlands) needs to be carefully coupled with protecting what we already have.

But this still doesn’t directly address how to determine value for money. What benefits should we be trying to measure, and how do we measure them? How can we compare all of the value in two parcels of land?

Economics offers ways to get around this, including valuation techniques that put a dollar figure on particular species or services by measuring human preferences. A simpler tactic would be to decide on criteria that would give projects extra points when they demonstrate more than one kind of benefit.

Regardless of the technique, a certain amount of subjective decision-making accompanies project selection. Are we more interested in protecting species at risk or areas with an abundance of plants or animals? There’s no avoiding criteria selection to figure out what we’re looking to improve.

It’s not that tree planting is without merits. It was only recently that the Smart Prosperity Institute calculated that 2 billion trees could sequester around 1.8 to 4.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030, and double that amount by 2050.

So there is no question that nature is a fundamental piece of the puzzle for fighting climate change. However, policies with a sole focus on climate could miss a bigger opportunity to protect and enhance all of the benefits that nature provides. SOURCE

Trees are Healing the Planet

A recent study found that new forests might be our best shot at saving the world. A global guide to doing it right.

Image result for trees are healing the planetThey make it look so easy. Credit: Nathan Anerson via Unsplash

It’s not often these days that there is good news about climate change. So when a recent study suggested that establishing a trillion new trees around the world could turn back the climate clock to the 1970’s, it landed like a bombshell in the scientific community. Researchers analyzing satellite data calculated about 2.2 billion acres of available land around the world that could be converted into forest cover, capturing 205 gigatonnes of CO2. This could bring down atmospheric levels by twenty five percent.

Prof. Thomas Crowther who co-authored the research said, “We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today.”

That’s a big statement — one that got the whole world got excited to run out and plant trees. Hell, it even became an election platform.

But there are many challenges with planning landscape-level projects decades into the future, especially as climate change alters local growing conditions. And unless the underlying causes of past deforestation are addressed, any new trees planted may suffer the same fate as the ones they are replacing.

So before we all stick shovels in the ground, we decided to take a look at some examples of resilient reforestation efforts and why they worked. MORE


The global tree restoration potential

Forestry sector scrambles to recruit tree planters to sow millions – perhaps billions – more seedlings

B.C. silviculture companies are struggling to find up to 1,000 more tree planters

Veteran tree planter Jeff Andrews works his way across a B.C. mountainside. Facing a multimillion-seedling spike in the number of trees that need to be planted, B.C. is need of hundreds more tree planters for the 2020 season. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

It takes the stamina of an athlete to run up the side of a steep mountain the way Lann Dickson does.

“Nothing about it is easy,” said Dickson.

“A lot of people quit in the first week or two, it definitely breaks a lot of people.”

The veteran tree planter zig-zags across the mountainside in Fraser Canyon near Boston Bar, B.C., dodging stumps and branches, with 300 seedlings tucked into pouches strapped around his waist. Without losing a beat, Dickson pierces the ground with his shovel and slings a seedling into the ground. Then he’s off to the next spot he eyes several metres away.

Dickson has been tree planting in B.C. for 24 years, and skilled workers like him are in extremely high demand right now.

And that’s before the ambitious campaign promises by federal parties to plant billions more trees across Canada are even factored in.

Experienced tree planters like Lann Dickson are in high demand, because they know how to move quickly and safely across tricky terrain, and have the skills to sow hundreds of trees a day. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

B.C. alone needs to plant an estimated 48 million more trees in 2020 than it did last year in an effort to restore massive areas burned in the province after two record-breaking wildfires, and to promote carbon sequestration.

The Western Forestry Contractors’ Association estimates the increase may be the largest leap in planting volume in the industry’s 50-year history, going from 270 million seedlings this year to as many as 318 million seedlings next year.

In addition to normal projects to reforest trees harvested for logging, B.C. is planning to plant millions more trees next year in areas burned by wildfire. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Labour shortage

The industry estimates it employs roughly 4,500 workers. It will require 500 to 1,000 more planters to sow all those extra seedlings next year.

“It’s going to be a challenge for sure, [with] a lot more trees coming to market this year than past years,” said Timo Scheiber, CEO of Brinkman Reforestation.

Timo Scheiber, CEO of Brinkman Reforestation, says he believes it’s a great time to be a tree planter, as there is a huge need to reforest areas harvested and burned down by wildfires. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Adding to that extra demand, the search for reliable and experienced planters could skyrocket after a recent landmark study by Swiss researchers found that tree planting could play a huge role in combating climate change. Federal leaders on the campaign trail jumped on the study, and two parties have promised to plant billions of trees if elected.

The Liberals have pledged to plant 2 billion more trees over the next decade across the country to get Canada closer to carbon neutrality.

The Greens have an even more ambitious goal — 10 billion trees over the next three decades. MORE

Phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to end UK contribution to global warming

“Policies will have to ramp up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible, given that most sectors of the economy will need to cut their emissions to zero by 2050.”

There is one atmosphere. Cutting emissions must be an overriding Canadian priority as well, are achievable with known technologies, and result in improvements in people’s lives.

The UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years by setting an ambitious new target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change

Image result for global warming

The Committee’s report, requested by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in light of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s Special Report in 2018, finds that:

  • The foundations are in place throughout the UK and the policies required to deliver key pillars of a net-zero economy are already active or in development. These include: a supply of low-carbon electricity (which will need to quadruple by 2050), efficient buildings and low-carbon heating (required throughout the UK’s building stock), electric vehicles (which should be the only option from 2035 or earlier), developing low-carbon electricity and low-carbon hydrogen (which are a necessity not an option), stopping biodegradable waste going to landfill, phasing-out potent fluorinated gases, increasing tree planting, and measures to reduce emissions on farms. However, these policies must be urgently strengthened and must deliver tangible emissions reductions – current policy is not enough even for existing targets.
  • Policies will have to ramp up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible, given that most sectors of the economy will need to cut their emissions to zero by 2050. The Committee’s conclusion that the UK can achieve a net-zero GHG target by 2050 and at acceptable cost is entirely contingent on the introduction without delay of clear, stable and well-designed policies across the emitting sectors of the economy. Government must set the direction and provide the urgency. The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed. Serious plans are needed to clean up the UK’s heating systems, to deliver the infrastructure for carbon capture and storage technology and to drive transformational change in how we use our land.
  • The overall costs of the transition to a net-zero economy are manageable but they must be fairly distributed. Rapid cost reductions in essential technologies such as offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles mean that a net-zero greenhouse gas target can be met at an annual cost of up to 1-2% of GDP to 2050. However, the costs of the transition must be fair, and must be perceived as such by workers and energy bill payers. The Committee recommends that the Treasury reviews how the remaining costs of achieving net- zero can be managed in a fair way for consumers and businesses.

There are multiple benefits of the transition to a zero-carbon economy, the Committee’s report shows. These include benefits to people’s health from better air quality, less noise thanks to quieter vehicles, more active travel thanks to increased rates of cycling and walking, healthier diets, and increased recreational benefits from changes to land use. MORE

Ontario cancels program that aimed to plant 50 million trees

Doug Ford’s program of death by a thousand cuts just included cutting a program to plant 50 million trees. Extreme neoliberalism has found a home in Ontario. Ontario apparently is no longer ‘a place to grow’ –not trees at any rate. To voice your protest,  a list of Ontario MLAs is found HERE


View the video

Doug Ford
(Photo: Getty Images)

TORONTO — Ontario is cancelling a tree planting program, with those involved warning the move will lead to the loss of jobs and environmental benefits that forests provide.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry told Forests Ontario the day after the Progressive Conservative government delivered its budget this month that the 50 Million Tree Program was being eliminated.

Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario, said since 2008 more than 27 million trees have been planted across Ontario through the program, which saved landowners up to 90 per cent of the costs of large-scale tree planting.

It was started as a carbon sequestration program, Keen said, but planting that many trees also helps clean the air and water, protect shorelines and reduce erosion.

About 40 per cent forest cover is needed to ensure forest sustainability, Keen said, and the average right now in southern Ontario is 26 per cent, with some areas as low as five per cent.

The program’s annual budget was about $4.7 million, Keen said, and Forests Ontario was told it was being cancelled as a way to cut provincial costs.

“Premier (Doug) Ford wants to reduce the deficit and this was…something they thought was expendable,” Keen said. “We certainly recognize that with climate change coming it’s going to be more important than ever to have healthy, contiguous, large forests to be able to mitigate climate change and certainly adapt to climate change.” MORE


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An easy, cost-effective way to address climate change? Massive reforestation

Quinte Conservation has a tree seeding program. Potential landowners may be eligible for a subsidized program.

As the implications of climate change become starker and the world faces up to a biodiversity crisis that threatens humanity’s existence, a group of campaigners from across the world are saying there is one clear way to get us out of this mess, but that governments are ignoring it.

In an open letter published in the British newspaper, The Guardian, the group tells governments that the best and cheapest way to avert a climate catastrophe is to heal nature by restoring and replanting degraded forests and by better conserving the natural world.

They call for the defense, restoration and reestablishment of forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds, and other crucial ecosystems, to remove and store large amounts of carbon from the air. The protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help minimize a sixth great extinction, they say.

The group says that nearly a third of the greenhouse gas reductions needed to hold temperatures to a 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) rise can be provided by the restoration of natural habitats. But natural solutions are calculated to have attracted just a small fraction of the funding so far committed, according to journalist an author George Monbiot, one of the signatories.

Protecting and restoring natural forests is seen as vital. Trees suck carbon dioxide from the air and store itNearly one-quarter of all the emissions reductions pledged by countries in the 2015 Paris agreement could come from tree planting and restoration. The U.N. has challenged countries to restore 865 million acres of farm and forest land by 2030 — an area bigger than India. And countries are responding. MORE

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