By Chris Lang
There is a long list of reasons why tree planting is not a solution to the climate crisis. Here’s another. On 18 July 2022, Land Life Company, a Netherlands-based tree planting and carbon offsetting firm, accidentally started a fire that burned 14,000 hectares of land in the northeast of Spain. Almost 2,000 people had to be evacuated. The A-2 motorway and a railway line had to be closed.
A Land Life contractor was working in Bubierca, in the autonomous community of Aragón. “The fire started while a contractor was using a retro-spider excavator to prepare the soil to plant trees later this winter,” Land Life explains in a statement. “We are devastated by the latest estimate that 14,000 hectares have been affected.”
REDD-Monitor has sent some questions to Land Life Company. I look forward to posting Land Life’s replies to these questions in full and unedited when they arrive.
UPDATE – 28 July 2022: Land Life Company declined to answer REDD-Monitor’s questions:
Land Life started another fire in June 2022
This was not the first fire that Land Life’s operations caused this year in Aragón. On 20 June 2022, another fire burned 20 hectares. “It’s not good that it happens once and that they continue working,” Antonio Borque, mayor of Bubierca, told the local newspaper Heraldo. Borque argues that the Government of Aragón should have prohibited any further tree planting work because fire can so easily start in the dry hills.
A fire destroyed the forest here years ago and has not been able to regenerate on its own. Planting trees here will bring back the forest and boost biodiversity in the area.
It’s an area that’s prone to fire, then.
And it’s an area that faced extremely high temperatures when the fire started. Spain’s weather agency issued temperature warnings of 42°C in Aragón for 17 July 2022 – the day before Land Life’s contractor started the 14,000 hectare fire.
On 23 July 2022, the news website El Alto Jalón published a furious editorial along with a timeline of the fight against the fires:
After five days, the fire has burned an area of 14,000 hectares and has left towns like Moros surrounded by ashes and with their fruit orchards, from which practically the entire population lives, seriously damaged.
The mayor of Alhama de Aragón, José María Castejón, asked “When a few days go by, the media will forget and we will stay as we are, will the people and companies that have lost their way of life be compensated?”
One of the fire fighters, Mikel Marco, told El Alto Jalón that “there has been an incredible lack of common sense on the part of the contractor”.
Land Life Company
Land Life was incorporated in November 2013 by Jurriaan Ruys and Eduard Zanen. Ruys was previously a partner with McKinsey, before which he worked at fossil fuel corporations Eneco and Shell. Zanen was the co-founder of baby buggy company Bugaboo.
A company called Land Life Company USA, PBC was registered in the tax haven of Delaware before 1 September 2019, according to OpenCorporates. The company’s registered office is in California and the company has branch offices in Texas and California.
The company’s Chief Financial Officer, Tjeerd Anema, spent a total of 25 years working for Shell.
In January 2021, Ernst-Jan Stigter, ex-head of Microsoft Netherlands, joined Land Life. He lasted four months. The website Computable comments that “After four months, the man who was used to working in a professional organisation like Microsoft gave up. He leaves behind a company that focusses heavily on the use of artificial intelligence, robots and drones, but which faces the necessary ‘challenges’ in implementation.”
The company started by developing and selling Cocoon, a cardboard doughnut-shaped tray. The Cocoon protects seedlings and is filled with water to help the seedlings survive in dry conditions.
Land Life later became a tree planting company, using its own cardboard doughnuts to protect and water the seedlings. The company’s mission is “to restore the world’s 2 billion hectares of degraded land by planting trees and growing forests.”
In 2018, the company raised €3.5 million in a funding round led by the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust. According to Land Life,
The financing will enable further development of proprietary technology across the nature reforestation value chain. Patented planting technologies, autonomous planting, remote monitoring and blockchain verification will be applied to Land Life Company’s planting practices, leveraging internal and external data to ensure efficiency at scale.
This is the only mention of blockchain on Land Life’s website. When he invested, Jeremy Grantham said, “Land Life Company holds great promise to remove CO2 at low cost and at large scale by rehabilitating degraded, semi-arid lands.”
In 2020, Land Life raised a further €6 million with the Achmea Innovation Fund, Meewind, DOEN Participates, and the Grantham Environment Trust. “This is great news for all stakeholders of Land Life Company,” Land Life’s Jurriaan Ruys said in a press release about the funding round, “as well as local communities where nature is being restored.”
These comments about restoring nature and rehabilitating dry lands have not aged well. Neither has Land Life Company’s slogan, “Impact you can see”.
Land Life Company and carbon offsets
Land Life Company does not explain on its website how the carbon offsets from its tree planting operations are validated and verified. Neither does Land Life explain on which registry the offsets are placed.
“Land Life Company always works on land with strong permanence, additionality and governance,” the company states on its website. But it goes into no detail about how any of this is achieved.
The company’s statements about the fire in Aragón make no mention of what will happen to the carbon offsets that have been more than cancelled out by the massive emissions from the fire. The statements make no mention of how (or whether) Land Life will calculate how many tonnes of CO2e were emitted during the fires.
In a 2019 interview, Land Life’s Jurriaan Ruys said,
We tend to charge significantly higher than others for offsets, because we have a high-quality product, and we can’t save the world by charging $1/ton of CO2. Our price point is around 15 – 25 euros. Then it’s our job to spend less than that and continue to invest in our growth.
Land Life Company has an account on Verra’s Registry.
The company has made three retirements on the Verra Registry:
- 20 February 2019: 12,000 carbon offsets from the Kariba REDD+ project in Zimbabwe. The vintage of the offsets was 2014. The beneficial owner of 7,700 of these offsets was holiday park company Landal Greenparks. Booking.com bought 4,170 of the offsets, and Land Life used the remainder of the offsets “to neutralize 130 tCO2e of emissions from employee travels” for the first six months of 2018.
- 28 February 2020: 6,700 carbon offsets from a wind farm in India. The vintage of the offsets was 2018. The beneficial owner was Lundin Petroleum SA and the offsets were retired to offset “emissions from business and operationally related air travels for 2018 and 2019”.
- 17 June 2020: 7,482 offsets from another wind farm in India. The vintage of the offsets was 2016. The beneficial owner was financial services firm Optiver Services B.V. to offset “emissions from business activities in 2019”.
Some of Land Life Company’s clients
In November 2019 Landal Greenparks put out a press release about planting 3,600 trees in the Netherlands with Land Life. Landal Greenparks states in its press release that “Landal GreenParks not only wants to compensate for its CO2 emissions, but also wants to invest in good nature.”
Land Life is planting one million trees in Australia and Iceland for Dutch insurance company Achmea. In its 2021 Annual Report, Achmea states that, “From 2026 and with the help of Land Life Company, we aim to compensate for the remainder of our CO2 emissions through large-scale reforestation over a period of 40 years.” Achmea states that 1,000 hectares of “degraded land” will be restored. “The trees will absorb approximately 200,000 tons of CO2 over the next forty years,” according to Achmea.
Land Life is planting trees so that car hire firm LeasePlan Corporation can claim that their customers’ trips are “carbon neutral”.
Land Life is working with online fashion retailer Zalando to plant more than 300,000 trees in Spain.
In November 2020, Land Life announced an “alliance” with Spanish oil and gas company Repsol and forestry company Sylvestris (which is more than 21% owned by Repsol).
Land Life also plants trees for heating and technology company Nefit-Bosch, private equity firm Nordian Capital Partners, property developers Redevco, and timber pallet company Faber Halbertsma Group.
Land Life Company and Shell
In April 2019, Land Life and Shell announced a 300-hectare tree planting project in the Castilla y León region of Spain. Jurriaan Ruys, Land Life’s co-founder said,
“Shell’s investment in our reforestation project will help restore land degraded by overfarming and wildfires. The new forest will remove over 55,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, increase biodiversity and encourage the return of investment to one of the most beautiful parts of Spain.”
Of course Land Life’s press release made no mention of the fact that Shell is one of the biggest polluters on the planet.
Shell’s partnership with Land Life is part of its promotion of “nature-based solutions”, which in reality amounts to no more than greenwashing in an attempt to continue business as usual for as long as possible. It’s a recipe for a burning planet.
Land Life Company and EcoPlanet Bamboo
Land Life’s largest programme is with Norwegian oil and gas company Lundin Energy under which eight million trees will be planted in Spain and Ghana.
To start this initiative, Land Life has partnered with EcoPlanet Bamboo to restore an initial 500 hectares of EcoPlanet’s 11,145 hectare West African operation. The land has been degraded through a combination of charcoal driven deforestation and wildfires. This partnership will create significant environmental and climate benefits, while providing up to 120 members from the local communities with employment opportunities during the first planting season to get the trees into the ground.
Of course Land Life’s press release about its partnership with EcoPlanet Bamboo made no mention of the people who lost their investments in EcoPlanet Bamboo’s Bamboo Bonds. Neither does it mention the boiler room operations that were selling the Bamboo Bonds using too-good-to-be-true promises of returns of “up to 895%“.