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New woodland code attacked from all sides

Last week the UK Forestry Commission re-issued guidance on The Woodland Carbon Co2de - Requirements for voluntary carbon sequestration projects, designed to promote the use of UK forestry projects in delivering emission reductions. 

It aims to attract organisations, companies and individuals to the concept of reducing their carbon footprint by investing in the protection of UK woodland. Sounds like offsetting. 

The code is careful not to refer to the product as “carbon offsets”, however, environmental commentators have still been quick to criticise new guidance as “misleading” for potential clients.  

The reason for the criticism is that, as we’ve made clear before, offsetting in the UK is just not possible.

When the Forestry Commission first issued guidance we reported on the fundamental issues with using the proposed model for offsetting purpose, and these issues remain. While UK woodland protection projects might be financially additional (i.e. the projects wouldn’t have happened without the extra finance), offsetting in the UK is never additional in terms of the emission reductions because the rules of the Kyoto Protocol prevent tradable offsets from being generated in the UK – so the projects are not institutionally additional. 

In a recent Environmental Finance article, a spokesman on carbon offsetting said, “you can’t class this as an offset. You can’t claim this against your footprint. It shouldn’t be thought of as such.”

It seems that this message is getting lost in translation, with end users are referring to the product as an offset. In the same article a project developer from County Durham based Forest Carbon said, “If they (clients) are not allowed to call it an offset, they will still do it anyway”, because they believe they are making a difference.

The RSPB have also chirped up with concerns about the scheme. They worry that the code focuses too heavily on carbon when woodlands provide many more benefits to nature than simply sequestering carbon. 

They have expressed concerns over the type and location of new woodlands, suggesting that “much of our wildlife rich natural landscapes such as lowland heathland have been destroyed by irresponsible, poorly planned tree planting”. 

They also suggest the report thinks too narrowly alternative methods of carbon sequestering.  Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director said “Unfortunately this code does not go far enough when it comes to promoting the restoration of some important wildlife habitats like peat bogs.”

Speaking to Business Green, a spokesman for the Woodland Carbon Code said that there is a strong case for companies interested in purchasing voluntary carbon offset credits to consider Woodland Carbon Code-approved projects: as well as reducing emissions, they also deliver significant biodiversity and habitat-related benefits. 

Unfortunately, critics say it’s not achieving either.  

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