Celebrating the unsung heroes of climate change - Ian Duncan
As the great movie mogul Sam Goldwyn declared, we have all passed a lot of water since then. What with war and pestilence, economic crises of every hue and colour, energy prices sky-rocketing and unprecedented political upheaval, it has not always been easy to keep a steady focus on climate change.
Yet at home here in Scotland we are climate change pioneers of sorts in one vital area: reforestation. Trees are the unsung heroes of climate change, with the average Scottish tree sequestering (soaking up) approximately 25kg (55lbs) of CO2 a year, about the weight of three Scottie dogs. Scotland has led the way for two key reasons, a government commitment to plant trees and a recognition that conifers have to be part of the mix.
Let me explain: conifers are faster growing than broadleaf trees, and soak up carbon faster in their early to medium years. A mature pine, or spruce or fir by the age of 50 has sequestered far more carbon than a similar aged sycamore, oak or ash. It is only after their 50th birthday when broadleaf trees begin to catch up and overtake. The other advantage of conifer trees is that although they are felled earlier than broadleaf trees, commonly around 40 years of age, the timber produced continues to store the carbon in near perpetuity.
The commitment of the Scottish Government, and the delivery against ambitious targets, means Scotland is leading the way within the four nations of the UK and indeed across much of northern Europe.
The question is whether England and the rest of the UK can catch up. The auguries on this are better than they have been for some time. Whilst PM Truss didn’t seem overly fond of the net zero targets and Boris Johnson’s forestry minister seemed almost allergic to conifer trees, the newly-minted PM Rishi Sunak appears to be more of a forest fan. Back in 2020 when Chancellor, he stated: “Over the next five years, we will plant around 30,000 hectares of trees – a forest larger than Birmingham…” Whilst that target was never met, it is at least a healthy foundation to grow upon.
The UK's COP Presidency ended on 6th November, when we handed the Presidency over to Egypt. It is therefore a fitting time to reissue the challenge to the new UK Government forestry minister: it’s time to get the trees in the ground. And it is certainly time for the UK forest mix to be far closer to an even split between conifers and broadleaf trees.
In realising this ambition, the support of the Scottish Government could well prove vital. Sharing good practice alone would help the UK Government avoid a number of the challenges that beset the Scottish Government in the early days: planning, the relationship with farmers, environmental concerns and so on.
It would be good to see the UK and devolved governments working constructively on such an important mission: literally cutting out all the hot air.
Lord Duncan of Springbank is Chair of Confor: promoting forestry and wood
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