UK can cut emissions via tree planting push

LONDON (Reuters) - Covering an extra four percent of the nation in forests, or planting some 30,000 football pitches’ worth of trees per year, could cut UK greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by 2050, a new report said on Wednesday.

Two mounted Metropolitan police officers ride through the autumnal trees at Hyde Park in central London November 7, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Three million hectares or 12 percent of Britain is currently covered in forests, but upping this by one third to 16 percent could reduce forecast emissions levels in 40 years, according to the report tasked by the Forestry Commission.

“Forestry can make a significant and cost-effective contribution to meeting the UK’s challenging emissions reduction targets,” said professor David Read, former vice-president of the Royal Society and chairman of the panel of scientists that authored the report.

“By using more wood for fuel and construction materials we can make savings by using less gas, oil and coal, and by substituting sustainably produced timber for less climate-friendly materials.”

The report called for a steep rise in tree planting levels, from a current average of 9,000 hectares a year to 23,000 hectares, and said that maintaining the trend of building and refurbishing homes using wood could store an additional 36.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2019.

European forest and woodland coverage is around 37 percent, more than three times the UK figure.

“Carbon storage in UK forests has been declining as a result of new-planting rates falling and younger forests, which sequester more carbon than older forests, maturing,” the report said, adding that raising new woodland planting rates would help to reverse this decline.

Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by two percent in 2008, firmly putting the country on course to meet its 12.5 percent below 1990 goal under the Kyoto Protocol.

Net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for 2008, which take into account CO2 removals from forests, also fell two percent to 531.8 million tonnes from 542.6 million.

“While so many emissions reduction measures have negative connotations, tree planting can be a win, win, win solution: people love trees, we benefit from them in so many different ways, and now we know they could play a significant part in reducing the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions,” Read added.

Reporting by Michael Szabo; Editing by Keiron Henderson