Planting trees to capture and store carbon
- How does carbon sequestration work / how does planting trees help?
- What are the main considerations for Woodland Carbon planting projects?
- How effective are trees at fighting climate change?
- Hasn’t there been some criticism of tree planting for carbon capture and storage?
- Is it better to plant fast growing conifers or slower growing broadleaves?
- Where will the trees be planted?
- When will trees be planted?
- Are there any other benefits to planting more woodland?
- Who owns the land where woodland will be created?
- Can I be sure that if I invest in woodland carbon projects in UK I’m not causing deforestation or forcing the need for intensive farming elsewhere in the UK or globally?
- How can I be sure the carbon is permanently taken out of the atmosphere?
- How can I be sure that the project/woodland I invest in is really up to standard?
- How can I be sure someone else isn’t claiming the same carbon from the same woodland?
- How do I know the carbon scheme I want to invest in is planting woodland that meets the code?
- What happens if the woodland I invest in burns/blows down or is illegally felled?
- Where does the carbon go if a woodland is felled for timber/woodfuel?
- How do we know that planting projects are sequestering the CO2 claimed?
- What’s the difference between the compliance and voluntary market?
Financing woodland creation
- How much does it cost to create a woodland?
- Who can purchase carbon from Woodland Carbon Code projects?
- What about the Forestry Commission and Forest Service woodland grant schemes?
Carbon is a chemical element found in all known life forms. It is exchanged throughout the earth's biosphere and reused by all living organisms. When carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere, from a gas into a solid state, by the oceans, terrestrial environments or geological formations, it becomes 'locked' in a more stable form. This reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Trees are excellent at sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and retaining it for long periods in their wood and soil.
A woodland creation project should be a sustainably managed woodland meeting the requirements of the UK Forestry Standard in addition to meeting the main requirements also set out in other international carbon standards.
Permanence - The climate benefits of forest carbon sequestration may be compromised through human or natural disturbances, such as fire, felling or insect infestation. In such cases, the carbon stored in a forest project may be emitted to the atmosphere. To guard against these kinds of possibilities, management plans and risk assessments are developed to minimise the possibility of loss, and the Woodland Carbon Code buffer ensures that any verified carbon units are 'permanent'. More.
Additionality - For a project to be 'additional' it must be shown to remove additional amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere compared to what would have happened in the absence of a forest carbon market. More.
Carbon accounting - Projects should account for the sequestration and emissions of the project in all relevant carbon pools. This should be compared to the baseline scenario, or what would have happened in the absence of the project and also adjusted for leakage, or changes to carbon stocks outside the project boundary as a result of the project going ahead.
Avoiding double counting - The scheme as a whole needs to make sure that carbon from each project is only counted once. The UK Woodland Carbon Registry gives the details and status of each project and tracks the listing, ownership, and use of each carbon unit.
The primary focus of businesses and individuals should be to reduce direct emissions of greenhouse gases. Where this is not possible, woodland creation offers a cost-effective and tangible way of soaking up some of the CO2 that has been released into the atmosphere. Currently, woodlands soak up around 2% of the UK’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases (in CO2e), but with increased planting rates, have the potential to soak up much more, thus being one of many measures that can help mitigate the effects of our emissions. The Code will provide the reassurance that this is done to a recognised standard.
Hasn’t there been some criticism of projects designed to sequester carbon in trees?
There has been some criticism of woodland carbon projects largely because of the lack of standards and scrutiny. In the UK the new Woodland Carbon Code will address these concerns.
Some organisations would prefer to see direct reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Woodland creation will never be an alternative to reducing emissions, but it can play a role in mitigating the effect of our emissions, as well as ensuring that our landscapes are more resilient to climate change.
The level of carbon sequestration depends heavily on both the species used and operational options chosen to manage the woodland. Currently, carbon sequestration rates are highest in fast-growing, highly productive sites of conifer stands. However, due to a warming climate, there is a need to select and use provenances and species that are more suited to the potential future climate changes.
In general most broadleaved species have a higher carbon content than conifers but this is offset by their lower rate of growth, although in species with very long rotations (i.e. >100 years) such as oak, the carbon stocks averaged over time can be higher than in faster growing conifer stands.
On land made available by owners. Much of this is likely to be agricultural land, but there are also opportunities (for example) on brownfield sites. Within the UK, individual countries have their own policies regarding the suitability of different types of land for planting – and all planting is potentially subject to Environmental Impact Assessment if it is likely to have a significant impact on the environment. Land is eligible under the Woodland Carbon Code if it is not currently woodland (ie if woodland has not been present for at least 25 years) and not deep peat (>50cm) soil.
Projects have to be registered within two years of the start of planting. The carbon will be sequestered as the trees grow and the sequestration can be claimed for up to 100 years after the trees are planted.
Woodlands under sustainable forest management can deliver many and multiple benefits, in addition to their role in sequestering carbon. Timber and woodfuel, employment opportunities, areas for recreation, biodiversity benefits, flood alleviation, improvements in water quality, and helping to adapt our landscapes to climate change by linking habitats to support wildlife.
The Woodland Carbon Code aims to encourage woodland creation on all types of currently unforested land, owned by a broad range of people and organisations. We anticipate woodland carbon projects to be brought forward from landowners, farmers, and land agents, local authorities, communities and others.
Can I be sure that if I invest in woodland carbon projects in the UK I’m not causing deforestation or forcing the need for intensive farming elsewhere in the UK or globally?
To meet the Code projects must include an assessment of whether they are likely to displace agricultural or other activities (which the woodland replaces) to another location. This is known as leakage. Ideally projects will not create the need for compensatory activities elsewhere but if they do they must, where possible, quantify the GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions created in another location and account for them within their project GHG budgeting.
Any woodland carbon project will result in a permanent land use change from open ground to woodland. Under the UK Forestry Act 1967, licences are required to fell trees (with certain exceptions, such as for development permitted through the planning system). The project owner will be required to take steps to ensure that the woodland is not removed or replaced by the landowner, placing on them a duty to carry out compensatory planting should an area be felled for development. Each project will require a risk assessment for the likelihood of failure eg. due to damage by pests, diseases, wind or fire, and a strategy to minimise the risks. Also, the project will not be allowed to claim credits for 100% of the carbon stored by the woodland, they will have to contribute to a shared buffer of unused carbon to allow for unforseen damage or loss.
The Woodland Carbon Code provides a standard to which all projects should adhere. All woodland creation projects will be certified against the standard by an independent body accredited by the UK Accreditation Service. Each project will be assessed at the outset, year 5 and then every 10 years to ensure that it continues to meet the standards set out in the Code. The status of every project will be published in the UK Woodland Carbon Registry.
Every carbon unit from each Woodland Carbon Code project will be listed in the UK Woodland Carbon Registry along with a unique identification number. The ownership of units and status of each project is publicly available. A project's unique ID should be stated when describing a certified project.
Check it's status in the UK Woodland Carbon Registry.
Projects must contribute a proportion of the carbon sequestered to a shared 'buffer pool' of unused carbon. This can be called upon, rather like an insurance policy, should any project suffer any unavoidable loss of verified Woodland Carbon Units (such as fire, wind, pest or disease outbreaks).
Felling licence controls apply regardless of whether the woodland is a carbon project or not. If a woodland is illegally felled there are powers to require the owner to replant it. Illegal felling of any carbon project would automatically result in the withdrawal of its certification status and the refusal of any application for future projects on the same land. Contractual liability under the Code would also obligate the project owner to compensate clients for the lost carbon.
When trees within the woodland are felled the carbon which was stored in the trees remains in the wood products unless, or until, they are burned or decompose. Following clear-felling, woodlands are replanted so the woodland will continue to sequester carbon. Project investors can claim the long-term average (eg at least 100 year-average or several whole rotations) sequestration of a particular woodland, given the plans for felling and replanting trees. The carbon which is ‘removed’ from the woodland into timber products cannot currently be counted as part of the woodland carbon project. Future developments will consider the potential for harvested wood products to be included within the scope of the Code.
Methods of carbon measurement have been developed which will allow projects to consistently predict and measure carbon
• Carbon Lookup Tables allow a project to predict the amount of carbon that might be sequestered for a range of site, woodland, and management types.
• Direct measurement of the volume of trees as they grow will give a more precise picture of the carbon actually sequestered
Once calculated, the estimate of carbon sequestered by the woodland will be considered by an independent certification body. They will validate the claims at the start of the project, and then consider the project every five years to verify the measurement of CO2 actually sequestered and revise the prediction of future sequestration.
The compliance (or regulated) carbon market is created and regulated by mandatory international or national agreements. These agreements set targets for countries to reduce their emissions, which they can do in several ways. When methods for personal or business reduction have been exhausted, they may further help to compensate for emissions they cannot reduce by investing in carbon offset projects. For example under the Kyoto Protocol, there are two internationally recognised methods for carbon reduction, accounting and trading:
• UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, which creates ‘Certified Emissions Reduction’ (CER's) credits
• UN’s Joint Implementation mechanism, which creates ‘Emissions Reduction Unit’ (ERU's) credits
Within Europe, the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), allows for the trade of carbon in a number of sectors and generates ‘European Union Allowances’ (EUA's).
In the voluntary market a number of carbon standards have been established which follow stringent standards. This voluntary market for carbon works outside the compliance market. It enables sectors of the economy which are not regulated. Some of the most well known voluntary standards are:
• The Voluntary Carbon Standard
• The Gold Standard
• Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards
• Plan Vivo
How much does it cost to create a woodland?
The costs of woodland establishment differ depending on the nature of the site and the type of woodland that will be established. The Forestry Commission Grants and Regulations teams in each country have set out the standard cost of each major operation. Grants are available throughout the UK for a proportion of the cost of woodland establishment. You can find out more from the grant scheme website:
• Grants and Regulations in England
• Grants and Licences in Scotland
• Grants and Regulations in Wales
• Grants in Northern Ireland
Woodland creation projects which sign up to the Woodland Carbon Code can continue to claim a woodland creation grant in England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, as long as 'additionality' criteria are satisfied. In fact, evidence provided for grant applications can also be used to support an application for a woodland project to be certified as a carbon sequestration project under the Woodland Carbon Code.
What steps has the Forestry Commission taken to reduce its carbon footprint?
Facilitating the development and introduction of the Woodland Carbon Code on behalf of the UK’s forestry sector is just one example of the wide range of initiatives the Forestry Commission (FC) is taking to reduce its carbon footprint and help tackle climate change. See the FC’s Business Sustainability Programme for more information.
Amongst other things, to minimise the impact of it’s activities, the FC has;
• set annual targets for reducing emissions from travel and energy use;
• introduced initiatives on waste management and recycling
• installed new video conferencing facilities at main offices
• committed to achieving independent certification to international standards of environmental management under ISO14001