The Rise Of Plastic Offset Schemes, Dearth Of Corporate Carbon Disclosures, And A Chat About Planting Trees

This week’s Current Climate, which every Saturday brings you a balanced view of sustainability news.

1/22/2022 5:23:00 PM

The Rise Of Plastic Offset Schemes, Dearth Of Corporate Carbon Disclosures, And A Chat About Planting Trees

This week’s Current Climate, which every Saturday brings you a balanced view of sustainability news.

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesThe Progressroad pricing. that squeeze far more capacity out of existing rail lines.BlackRock’s Larry FinkAir pollutionAre Plastic Offset Schemes The ‘Next Big Thing’ In Sustainability? A growing number of plastic offset or credit schemes that are springing up around the world.

There is no doubt that planting more trees helps in the fight against climate change—but it’s not as simple as planting a seed in the ground. To understand how to best direct efforts to grow trees across the world, I spoke to Paul Smith, secretary general at Botanic Gardens Conservation International. In November, the organization launched a

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To get Current Climate in your inbox every Saturday, sign up here.   Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales plant a tree at the Balmoral Cricket Pavilion, to mark the start of the official planting season for the Queen's Green Canopy (QGC), on October 1, 2021 near Crathie, Scotland. (Photo by Andrew Milligan-WPA Pool/Getty Images) Getty Images Want To Hit Net-Zero Goals? Increase Public Investment In Viable Technologies WESTHAMPTON, NJ - JULY 15: Employees of SunEdison install photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a Kohl's Department Store on July 15, 2008 in Westhampton, New Jersey. Company engineers estimate Kohl's will be able to reduce their electricity usage on average by 25% once power begins flowing from the 1536 rooftop panels. Kohl's signed a contract with SunEdison, based in Beltsville, Maryland, to receive electricity for 20 years at a reduced price from public utility rates. New Jersey is the nation's second largest producer of solar energy behind California. State and federal tax incentives help individuals and commercial enterprises cover the costs of solar panel installations. SunEdison is North America's largest solar energy service provider. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images) Getty Images The technologies to achieve net-zero have not yet reached scale. But they are on the drawing board. Can the U.S. get there? The Progress A new net-zero report, commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, outlines several actions required to reduce air pollution, tackle the climate emergency and cut congestion . One of them could be congestion charging on steroids: road pricing.  Mile-long, slow-moving diesel trains loaded with cargo chugging slowly across the U.S. could be a thing of the past one day if stealth startup Parallel Systems has its way. The Los Angeles company thinks the future of freight lies in that squeeze far more capacity out of existing rail lines. The Challenges In his annual letter to shareholders, BlackRock’s Larry Fink says transparency is an important element of delivering long-term, durable returns. In the last eighteen months, a growing number of investors and financial institutions have set net zero targets, . Air pollution isn’t just a health hazard for humans. According to new research, it’s affecting the ability of some insects such as bees and butterflies cutting the number of flower visits in an area by up to 90%. Are Plastic Offset Schemes The ‘Next Big Thing’ In Sustainability?  Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water. (Photo credit should read Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media via Getty Images) Barcroft Media via Getty Images A growing number of plastic offset or credit schemes that are springing up around the world. Can they avoid the pitfalls of their carbon credit cousins? Climate Talks There is no doubt that planting more trees helps in the fight against climate change—but it’s not as simple as planting a seed in the ground. To understand how to best direct efforts to grow trees across the world, I spoke to Paul Smith, secretary general at Botanic Gardens Conservation International. In November, the organization launched a to encourage a move away from initiatives that “plant a tree at any price” and instead promote a long-term solution that puts the right tree in the right place and combines the considerations of biodiversity, local communities, and carbon capture. What are some of the common issues that lead to the failure of tree planting projects? First, is not choosing the right tree species—those that are not right for the climate or the soil. But the biggest problem actually is the lack of proper care. People think if you stick a tree in the ground, it will look after itself. [But] it needs management and care, monitoring, and so on. And this is also a concern of ours, that people would be wasting money if they think they can just drop the seed and hope for the best. There's a lot of care required. How can companies ensure they find the best partners in tree planting projects? Work with your local botanical garden. There are around 3000 of those around the world. There's tremendous expertise available in every country. For any investment you're making, you [want to] work with the best of the best advisors. And I think quite often that isn't happening. It's not just about providing direct advice or information about what goes in the ground. An additional major constraint is lack of infrastructure and lack of material. Take Ethiopia, which has pledged to plant millions of hectares of forest —they have about 800 tree species that are native to [the country] and we know will grow well there. But only about 35 of those 800 are available in nurseries and in seed banks. So there's a major piece of work that needs to happen to build the infrastructure for us to plant a more diverse range of trees. Is that an area where corporate ESG initiatives can help? It's all market driven. If corporates want a more diverse range of species to plant, the infrastructure will come. There's a role for our community in supporting [those efforts]. For example, we have information about how to germinate a wide range of tree species that's publicly available, but people don't know that it's available. We need to see a bit of a paradigm shift from using just a few fast growing exotic species to something which is much more resilient, biodiversity friendly, and better actually at storing carbon. Some people seem to think we can solve climate change simply by planting trees rather than reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases or reliance on fossil fuels. What’s your view on that? It's very clear that tree planting cannot be seen as a substitute for changing the way that we rely on fossil fuels and shifting to more sustainable energy. Tree planting is useful, if it's done right. It sequesters carbon and also, there are benefits for people and benefits for biodiversity. Equally, it can be damaging. If you're planting trees in highly biodiverse grasslands, for example, that's going to be damaging for biodiversity and ultimately for people. But done right, it is a really important intervention that can provide all kinds of benefits. We’ve talked about planting trees, but what considerations should go into whether it’s worth cutting trees to make space for manufacturing plants or other development projects? It does depend on what kind of forest it is. Was that forest planted by people? Is it highly biodiverse? [And if you’re planting trees to replace those you’ve cut down,] are you replacing like for like? If you're replacing like for like, then that is sustainable. When it comes to the tropics, where we have absolutely no experience of putting in a really diverse tropical system, then I think that's problematic. We're seeing all of these really high value hardwoods being cut out and no replacement—that is simply unsustainable and it's damaging. Unless biodiversity is monetized in some form, and that could be through governments or the corporates who want to do something for biodiversity, I don't think we're going to win this battle. I think that we're going to continually be replanting exotics that do nothing for biodiversity, but can be damaging to water availability and erosion, etcetera. So that's perhaps a bigger issue, how we start to value biodiversity. Paul Smith’s answers were condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. On The Horizon