If one hectare of native woodland creation can create and sequester 800 tons of carbon over the course of 100 years then surely we should be focussing our efforts on large scale tree planting? There are other viable options too, and with the current financial incentives, tree planting is certainly not the only approach.
Scotland has vast areas of open land, some of which is ideally suited to expanding native woodland cover to help meet our ambitious woodland creation, biodiversity and climate and greenhouse gas emission targets. There are however many other ways that we can reduce our carbon use, sequester and protect our existing carbon stores.
Our oceans and peatlands are one of the most important carbon stores on the planet and our >3m km2 of global peatlands (IUCN) store more C02 than any other vegetation type on earth. Ongoing damage to them is directly linked greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.
Planned investment into peatland restoration in Scotland is significant at “£250m over the next 10 years” (Scottish Budget 2020/21) and potentially lucrative for land owners to invest in, however restoration is an expensive process and requires initial capital investment that can provide a major barrier to project development.
Hopefully a paradigm shift to the value of stored carbon could revolutionise how we value land that has limited agricultural, sporting or renewables potential and consequently slow or even halt reducing levels of native biodiversity. It should change the underpinning agricultural subsidy system that supports many private owners, tenants, and the growing number of community landowners and drive land use change by incentivising climate resilient systems.
The IUCN Woodland and Peatland Carbon Codes are currently an attractive added financial incentive for landowners to create woodland cover and restore degraded peatland on top of existing government financial incentives such as Peatland Action funding and long-established Woodland Grant Schemes.
Where could this expand to? There are huge opportunities to support landscape-scale habitat and species restoration using permanent pasture, rough grazing, marine and coastal habitats, even eventually maintaining reserves of oil and gas under the ground and under the oceans rather than extracting them and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?
We do need to drive this process at a much greater pace, so the potential for developing Regional Climate Funds to further facilitate some of these land use changes could be a very interesting and productive concept.
Several years ago, traditional investment managers were warning people to stay away from carbon storage investments and they were probably right, as the confidence and understanding in managing this ecological commodity in a sustainable way was virtually non-existent.
Our language and our values are now thankfully changing, albeit slowly. We now talk about green investment, carbon economies, ecosystem services, blue carbon, ecological restoration, and the list goes on, however these are still not mainstream well-understood terms.
Our traditional economic models are still relevant, however the components that underpin these models have radically changed and the values we now place in clean water, flood prevention, marine ecosystem health, clean air, and crucially carbon management have never been given higher value. There is still a long way to go for mainstream acceptance and understanding. Only now as the supply and quality of these services is being threatened does their value grow exponentially. Simple supply and demand?
This is not a fad, temporary fashion statement or economic blip, it is not going away and is here to stay. We should ignore it at our peril. Governments are already legislating for individuals and businesses to either reduce their carbon footprint and carbon offsetting is likely to be incentivised and legislated for to a greater level. Unfortunately, the choices that people, communities and businesses will inevitably be asked to make will not always be popular as they will require additional effort and expense in our daily lives and they should be introduced with care and properly incentivised.
Hopefully this terminology will become mainstream for everyone and the language of everyday life will change as we move our consumerist societies towards a more carbon-neutral economy and the value of protecting our species and habitats underpinned by healthy native biodiversity becomes more pertinent as a result.
If the recent global pandemic teaches us anything it is not to ignore our fragile connection with the natural world. How we interact and connect with our natural environment has never been more important for us and lockdown has focussed our attention on how valuable that environment is for the wellbeing of our civilisation.
We need to build our economy for the future in a sustainable manner and governments and business need to drive this process by supporting our economy through green job creation.
I hope that we can develop our carbon investment structure to give habitat and species conservation the platform that they require and not just the subject of continued inadequate investment by a select number of NGO’s, philanthropists, limited funding streams and placed so far down the political agenda that they are not sustainable or valued to the level that is required.
Carbon sequestration is here to stay and we need to rethink our entire approach to how we manage it if we are to thrive.
I believe that we can do this….