Rooted in nonsense: The great tree-planting ‘save the planet’ con


IN November last year, the Northumberland Woodland Creation Partnership launched its great plan to plant millions of trees across the county by 2030.  

In November last year, the Northumberland Woodland Creation Partnership launched its great plan to plant millions of trees across the county by 2030.   This is part of the eco green deal which the Government is bribing farmers and landowners and deceiving the public into accepting. Its proponents have come up with the catchy mantra ‘planting the right tree in the right place for the right reasons’.  

So what are the ‘right reasons’? Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson gave a speech at the launch of this scheme in which he said the reasons for planting trees are ‘to tackle the big challenges facing society, such as climate change and biodiversity decline, while promoting health and wellbeing and supporting a thriving local economy’. 

Councillor Sanderson didn’t mention the primary reason for the state promoting and paying for (through grants) the planting of new woodlands – their value as ‘carbon credits’.  

Rich people and big business will be able to buy these from the owner of the trees to offset the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused by their activities.  

However, trotting out that the trees are being planted to save the planet, or promote wildlife and ‘health and wellbeing’ and to ‘support a thriving local community’, is nonsense which doesn’t take much thought to see through. 

Planting trees has become necessary to supply the rapidly expanding market in carbon credits. Each metric tonne of CO2 (tCO2e) absorbed by trees will be worth a ‘carbon credit’ which the Government promises to buy at a set price or, if the owner thinks it more advantageous, can be sold at auction into the private market.  

Established woodland is excluded from the scheme. And only carbon sequestered by new planting is saleable, even though newly-planted trees emit more carbon in the first five years of their lives than they absorb. Don’t old trees absorb carbon? Or is the scheme limited to new trees because it’s aimed at getting trees planted on established farmland?  

In 2011, the Forestry Commission produced for the Government the Woodland Carbon Code, which regulates the types of carbon credits that can be sold. This is administered by Scottish Forestry on behalf of the various UK governments. Its cohort of ‘experts’ will assess the carbon absorption rate of woodland in tonnes.  

This whole carbon credit scheme arises from the 2005 Kyoto Protocol on climate change and the 2015 Paris Agreement, whereby Western governments made pledges to achieve ‘net zero’ COemissions by certain dates.  

Our government chose 2050 for the whole economy to go ‘net zero’. But ‘net zero’ doesn’t mean no COemitted anywhere. By this ingenious system of ‘carbon credits’, those individuals and large companies whose activities emit carbon dioxide will be able to offset their emissions by buying from the owners of woodland the carbon that their trees are calculated to have absorbed over a period of time.  

But if saving the planet from ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ is as vital as we are told by the eco-zealots and their acolytes, then surely we shouldn’t allow the global elite to criss-cross the world in their private jets, or big business to continue their CO2 emitting activities?  

However, so long as they can persuade national governments to get landowners to plant trees, the elites and global businesses will be unaffected if they can afford to buy a share of the carbon stored in somebody else’s trees and pass the cost on to us.  

It gets worse. Most of the carbon credit agreements are to last for 30 years. Which means that for the duration of the agreement the landowner will have given up the ownership of his woodland and be unable to do anything with it contrary to the terms of the agreement.  

He will have ‘monetised’ the natural assets on his land so that one or more of the roughly 12,000 large companies in Britain (and others across the world) that are required to undertake ‘greenhouse gas monitoring’, will own the substance of the trees growing there, but similarly be unable to do anything with them. And if the owner sells the land, the obligation will pass to the buyer.  

So what is a carbon credit worth? Where there is a commodity, a market will arise to trade in it, complete with its own jargon and complicated rules. The carbon credit market has become a fine example.  

The value of a carbon credit is based on validation by the high priests who keep the secrets of the Woodland Carbon Code. Even though, as mentioned, trees under five years old emit more carbon than they absorb, they still have a value based on the carbon they are expected to absorb after they have passed the five-year mark.  

The market has come up with two types of carbon credit. A Pending Issuance Unit (PIU) is an advance payment on the landowner’s promise to let the trees grow to five years and beyond. These are selling for between £7 and £20 per expected tonne of carbon.  

The second type is a Woodland Carbon Unit (WCU), which is a payment for carbon that the trees have been assessed as already having absorbed.  

As the scheme is in its early stages, too few of these have come up for sale to fix an accurate price, but ‘Vintage PIUs’ (note the jargon) which are PIUs in the process of being verified by the experts as worthy to become WCUs, are selling at a premium of about £30 above the PIU price.  

On average, say the experts, one acre of new woodland can sequester about 2.5 tonnes of carbon annually. So its worth in carbon credits after it has been established for five years is roughly between £37 and £50 a year. 

But do not be deceived. None of this has anything to do with saving the planet from ‘climate change’. Even if planting trees would reduce the rate of global warming, the evidence is that permanent pasture is just as effective at absorbing carbon.  

Moreover, pasture feeds grazing animals that feed us, keeps farmers on the land and supports a thriving local economy and gives us the English landscape we love.  

No, the real purpose of this tree-planting is to change the use of our land and to cleanse it of independent farmers – those who produce the food from the land we live on.  

It will destroy local communities as well as creating wilderness and desolation. Because, unlike current forestry practice, the owner of a stretch of newly-planted woodland will not be allowed to manage it or remove any trees without a corresponding repayment of the price of the carbon credit he has taken.  

His land will be subject to the whim of someone he probably won’t even know. He will have to deal with government bureaucracy if he wants to do anything to manage his land. Effectively, although he will still be the nominal owner, the value of his land will have been transferred to some faceless corporation, via the state. 

This is what they want. It has been sold to the credulous as necessary to save the planet, whereas in effect it is a gigantic scheme to transfer the land from individual private ownership and control into the hands of the state and international big business.  

Northumberland County Council ought to be ashamed of its involvement in this deceit. To be fair, though, the terms are set by central government, which in turn is controlled by international forces. But every one of the assertions in favour of this tree-planting is misleading and will have the opposite effect to that claimed.  

For example, it is hard to see how planting woods that cannot be touched for upwards of 50 years on previously productive farmland that has been created by the skill and sweat and muscle of our forefathers, will ‘support a thriving local economy’. In fact, it will clear the local community from the land.  

How will creating a trackless wilderness reverse the ‘biodiversity decline’, whatever that is? We are not told. These are good modern examples of Orwellian Newspeak: War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. 

That the leader of Northumberland County Council can swallow all this shows he either doesn’t understand what he’s dealing with, or he is careless about misleading the Northumbrian people whose interests he’s supposed to look after. It would be interesting to know which it is.  

© Philip Walling

This article first appeared in TCW on March 22 2022

Philip Walling

By Philip Walling

Having been a farmer and practised as a barrister, I am now a writer with two books published so far: Counting Sheep (2014) and Till the Cows Come Home (2018).

I am interested in everything to do with the countryside, rural history, humanity and the way we live now.

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