Carbon offsets, Trees and the environment

Carbon offsets are the latest new business opportunity from climate change. Even though it has been present for a long time, due to increased consumer demand, there are more businesses providing this service.

Sophie Black writes in Crikey (newsletter, no link available); about the new CarbonSmart scheme in Australia and the effect of tree plantations on communities and possible environmental degradation from tree plantations.

More about the CarbonSmart scheme from the Sydney Morning Herald.

FARMERS could earn tens of thousands of dollars for maintaining trees on their land – vegetation that they may not have had a legal right to clear anyway – under a new scheme that purports to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution.

CarbonSMART, to be launched by Landcare today, is the latest so-called carbon offset scheme to use trees to soak up carbon dioxide, a dangerous greenhouse gas.

But energy experts and environmentalists are worried the scheme may operate as little more than a way to funnel money from electricity consumers to farmers, without achieving any meaningful cut in greenhouse gases.

This scheme if allowed would provide a revenue stream for not doing anything.

Sophie suggests that some companies are growing trees at the expense of old growth forests and even burning these old growth forests and releasing CO2 before planting the new trees.

In developing countries, the establishment of carbon sinks in some cases has led to the displacement of local communities. In Latin America traditional access of local people to land is being denied, and vital foraging areas have been converted to tree farms. And in Uganda, one local community is now being forced to work on carbon-offsetting tree plantations for below cost wages.

It’s also worth remembering that old growth forests store up to more than three times more carbon if they are left in the ground than tree farms, which in many cases get logged and burnt every ten years or so, releasing CO2 from the logging slash and the soils.

Carbon offsets are creating a environment for ‘business as usual’ and suggesting that buying offsets is enough. Like eco-labels, what is needed is a strong regulation and auditing system which goes beyond just counting the trees.

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