Skip to content

🌳 "New Research Checks the Math of Large-Scale Tree Planting"

Carbon Removal Newsroom

Photo by aiokr chen / Unsplash

Host: Radhika Moolgavkar
Guest: Dr. Jane Zelikova | Executive Director | Soil Carbon Solutions Center
Category: 🌳 Carbon Capture

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:19] “The title of the paper is “Limited effects of tree planting and forest canopy cover and rural livelihoods in northern India”. And the paper made a bit of a splash when they came out largely because it does some things that few papers have previously done when it comes to thinking about forestry and tree cover as a climate solution, which is that the authors did a really thorough study where they linked measures of forest cover following tree planting projects in northern India. And also did a series of interviews with communities and households in the areas adjacent to those forest tree cover projects. And looked at whether tree cover increased as a result of tree planting activities. And whether the type of trees that were planted were the type that the communities valued and could make sort of a living from. And whether or not the communities that are adjacent to these projects actually rely on these forestry projects for any kind of support and livelihood. So it's a really cool combination of doing remote sensing work that is kind of following specific plots of land or projects across time, and linking that with on the ground surveys and interviews with the communities that are directly impacted by the project. […] The other reason it's really impactful is that it empirically shows that these tree planting efforts in northern India have not had the kind of desired climate benefits or impacts that are often assumed with reforestation and tree planting efforts.”

[4:25] “They did a series of plantations. […] There were multi species mixes that included broadleaf species as well as pine species and some combination depending on […] the project. What's interesting is that the governmental entities that conducted these tree planting activities differed depending on the kind of region or specific district the project was carried out in and had slightly different goals and different species planted and different kinds of activities. So the authors of the study were able to look across a lot of different points. In fact, they looked at 430 tree plantations that have been in place anywhere from 1965 through 2018. And they looked at them in 60 randomly selected local governments. So a lot of different entities were conducting these tree planting projects.”

[5:50] “I think the biggest reason that [one researcher] called [the projects] a failure is because it didn't meet some of the stated goals, both for the Government of India but also for other tree planting and reforestation or forestry projects that have been launched in response to climate […] mitigation and as a way to meet corporate or governmental climate commitments. And this is a really clear […] empirical way to show how a particular region where a lot of reforestation projects have taken place [that] those particular goals are not being met with these projects. So we assume that trees are great, because they photosynthesize, they draw down carbon […]. But when we assume that these reforestation projects have these climate benefits, it's often not […] followed up with empirical analysis. And this is a critical analysis of those projects that shows that they're not meeting those goals, that […] tree cover is not increasing over time even as these projects have been in place for years that forest cover is not increasing. […] The biggest kind of takeaway is that after you do these tree planting activities, over time you go out and you measure whether or not forest cover is going up, you would expect when you plant trees, forest cover would go up. […] That's not the case.

[14:52] “The rise in net zero commitments that is currently underway, is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it's nice to see people making climate commitments and ramping up ambition. But it's done in a space that is largely voluntary. There's really no accountability for these commitments and how they're met by the various actors, whether it be companies or governments even. And there's really little to no transparency about how those net zero goals are being met. Meaning that a company can make a net zero claim or goal and that would require some reduction of like sort of emissions, that company can control directly and then, for anything that's not easy to reduce, that is largely being met with offsets. But there's no transparency about what kind of offsets are being purchased to meet those goals and there's no accountability. And there's certainly nothing about quality.”

[15:57] “One of the things I think we all need in this space is a common definition of what it means to have a quality carbon offset. I think Oxford's carbon offsetting principles is a really great guide, because it does kind of spell out what it means to remove a ton of carbon and what it means to avoid the emissions of a tonne of carbon. And I think those kinds of guidelines are not being followed by many companies and governments that are currently making claims and setting net zero goals.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 31 min | 🗓️ 10/08/2021
✅ Time saved: 29 min

Additional Links: