The Republicans are turning to tree-planting as the party pivots on climate change.
As reported by Associated Press, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the answer to climate change and forest fires lies in planting 1 trillion additional trees.
“We need to manage our forests better so our environment can be stronger,” McCarthy said.
The idea reveals a shift in Republican thinking on climate change.
The party no longer denies global warming exists, yet is searching for a response to sweltering summers, weather disasters and rising sea levels.
Last week Wood Central reported that the Biden administration will invest USD 300 million to improve the measurement of carbon emissions in farming and forestry.
Crucially, the funding will come from a USD 20 billion allocation for climate-smart agriculture in the climate and social policy law that received bipartisan Republican and Democratic support last year.
As House Republicans gear up for the 2024 presidential election cycle, the Republican Party uses carbon abatement policies to offset emissions from American-produced energy.
“Let’s replace Russian natural gas with American natural gas,” Speaker McCarthy said, “and let’s not only have a cleaner world, let’s have a safer world.”
According to Associated Press, the Biden administration has boosted exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine.
President Biden has said that coal, oil and gas will be part of the United States energy supply for years.
Tree Planting and Carbon Accounting
The one trillion tree pledge comes from a 2019 study, which calculated that new trees could suck up 750 billion tonnes of heat-trapping carbon dioxide over the coming decades.
According to the researchers, “That is about as much carbon pollution as humans have spewed in the past 25 years.”
“This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution” and the most effective, said study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
The report, which former President Donald Trump played down, identified Russia, the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China as having the most room for new trees.
In 2021, McCarthy and other Republican lawmakers backed a bill to incentivise forest plantation establishment in the United States as part of a worldwide effort to plant 1 trillion trees.
For Republicans, the bill ticks the right boxes.
It is friendly to the timber industry and touts a climate solution — sequestering massive carbon from man-made emissions — that would also partially alleviate the need to wean the country off fossil fuels.
Investment in U.S. forest markets is booming.
U.S. forest establishment is booming, with Wood Central reporting that Japanese-based Sumitomo Forestry will invest 60 billion yen (approximately USD 430 million) in U.S. forestry over the next four years.
In January 2023, the forest giant established Eastwood Forests, LLC, focused on selling timber and forest carbon assets in the North American market.
It has now attracted interest from nine Japanese companies that have invested in the fund.
The investment is part of the company’s “Mission TREEING 2030” initiative – and the fund plans to purchase 130,000 hectares of U.S. forest assets by 2027 – using the forest for timber production and carbon offsetting.
New Study Pushes for Carbon Accounting Rethink
Whilst afforestation and establishment have strong international support, new research published in Nature has cast doubt over the accounting models used in carbon markets.
The World Resources Institute researchers note that while studies tend to estimate amounts of released carbon correctly, “the problem has been failing to account for the additional carbon forests overall would store if many were not being harvested.”
The WRI scientists advise that many carbon approaches give the impression of low, zero or even negative greenhouse gas emissions from wood harvests.
Under current accounting models, they offset carbon losses from new harvests with carbon sequestration from the growth of broad forest areas.
However, they note this model needs to be revised.
“Attributing this sequestration to new harvests is inappropriate because this other forest growth would occur regardless of new harvests and typically results from agricultural abandonment, recovery from previous harvests and climate change itself.”
Most research into carbon accounting counts gross emissions annually, which assigns no value to the capacity of newly harvested forests to regrow and approach the carbon stocks of unharvested forests.
With global demand for timber expected to quadruple over the coming years, the authors provide “a plausible solution to cutting carbon costs of wood harvests whilst still meeting global timber demand.”
They point to millions of hectares of low-biodiversity “tree farms,” referred to as forests by United Nations and national policies.
These are already intensively managed as plantations and can readily produce more wood on the same land.
“Steadily increasing the yields of existing plantations by 50% over 40 years,” they note, “would reduce global emissions by 600 million tons per year on average during this time.”
More efficiently harvesting tropical forests could increase savings by another 200 million tons.