Offsetting fossil fuel emissions with tree planting and ‘natural climate solutions’: science, magical thinking, or pure PR?

By Chris Lang (REDD-Monitor) and Simon Counsell (Rainforest Foundation UK)

Unlike carbon capture and storage systems, trees do actually take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it – temporarily, at least. In theory, planting enough new trees, and allowing existing forests to grow and regenerate, could mop up some of the excess CO2 now in the atmosphere. The idea has been around since the mid-1970s, when theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson came up with the idea of planting vast areas with trees (“in countries where labor is cheap”) to soak up the CO2 that burning fossil fuels is putting in the atmosphere.

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Guest Post: Nature-based solutions. Separating the wheat from the chaff

Recently, British journalist George Monbiot launched a Natural Climate Solutions campaign. In the spirit of encouraging debate about the dangers of offsetting emissions from fossil fuels against the carbon temporarily stored in ecosystems, I wrote a post asking the question, “Is the new Natural Climate Solutions campaign a distraction from the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground?”

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NGOs oppose the oil industry’s Natural Climate Solutions and demand that Eni and Shell keep fossil fuels in the ground

Oil giants Eni and Shell have both recently announced plans to use trees to offset some of their ever increasing carbon emissions. Yesterday, NGOs put out a statement opposing the oil industry’s attempts to avoid its responsibility for climate breakdown. The statement is signed by six organisations (Friends of the Earth Mozambique and South Africa; Centre for Natural Resource Governance, Zimbabwe; No REDD in Africa Network; Re:Common, Italy; and Friends of the Earth International). The statement is endorsed by a further 109 organisations.

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Is the new Natural Climate Solutions campaign a distraction from the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground?

Earlier this week, an international group of more than 20 campaigners wrote a letter to The Guardian in support of natural climate solutions. “The world faces two existential crises, developing with terrifying speed: climate breakdown and ecological breakdown,” they write. “Neither is being addressed with the urgency needed to prevent our life-support systems from spiralling into collapse.”

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Shell boss says “Another Brazil in terms of rainforest” is needed to address climate change. Meanwhile, Shell continues to profit from fossil fuels

At the Oil and Money conference in London last year, Shell’s CEO Ben van Beurden was worried that his audience might think that Shell had “gone soft” on oil and gas. He was keen to reassure them that, “Shell’s core business is, and will be for the foreseeable future, very much in oil and gas.”

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Natural Climate Solutions: “It really is time that governments stopped trying to find more ways to offset their fossil fuel emissions”

From the beginning, REDD proponents described saving rainforests as the “low-hanging fruit”. When he launched Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) in December 2007, Norway’s then-prime minister Jens Stoltenberg told us that, “Through effective measures against deforestation we can achieve large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – quickly and at low cost.”

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REDD funded by the oil industry cannot be “sustainable development”. Norwegian oil company Equinor continues its climate masquerade

As climate breakdown gets worse, the corporations most responsible are looking for ways to continue profiting from ever increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Norway’s oil company Equinor is a classic example of this. The company plans to continue drilling oil – including in the Arctic – while investing in “natural climate solutions” to offset its emissions.

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Companies won’t meet the New York Declaration or the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 deforestation targets. The Nature Conservancy tells us “that’s okay” and TFA says “let’s not dwell on it”

In September 2014, more than 50 companies signed on to the New York Declaration on Forests. The declaration has a target to “At least halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and strive to end natural forest loss by 2030.”

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The Nature Conservancy is wrong. Planting trees is not equivalent to halting the burning of oil

Here we go again. “Plant more trees to combat climate change: scientists” is a Reuters headline from earlier this week. The article is based on a press release put out by The Nature Conservancy about a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper’s argument relies on the scientific fraud that the carbon stored in forests, soil, and landscapes is climatically the same as the carbon stored underground in fossil fuels.

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