Woodland schemes cutting down corporate emissions
Since the launch of the Woodland Carbon Code in 2011, UK businesses have become more aware of the benefits of emissions sequestration through the investment of sustainably managed woodlands. Leigh Stringer finds out how robust science is turning this scheme into a potential game-changer
Prior to the UK Forestry Commission launching the Woodland Carbon Code two years ago, businesses were sceptical about the tangible emissions reductions they could achieve from investing in 'additional woodlands'.
Perceptions are changing. The introduction of the Code has provided a robust carbon measurement process through independent certification and now offers businesses and participants 'assurance and clarity' on the carbon savings of these projects.
Determining the net benefit, the code predicts the changes to carbon on the site in the absence of the project going ahead. This baseline scenario is how the impact of the project is measured.
It also considers carbon leakage, which accounts for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) outside the project boundary that are a direct result of the project. Once these estimations have been established, the carbon sequestration of a new woodland over a specific time period can be effectively estimated.
Business leaders have taken notice of the rigorous science behind woodland carbon sequestration and those looking to take their CO2 reduction programmes to the next level are beginning to get behind the scheme.
Currently, 28 different companies have invested in projects under the code with "more in the pipeline", says Dr Pat Snowdon economics and climate change advisor for the Forestry Commission.
He says that more than one million tonnes of CO2 have been validated and over 400,000 of these have been sold to date, generally at a price of between £3 and £10 per tonne of CO2.
These companies have contributed to the 133 projects registered under the Code as of June 30 2013, covering an area of 14.2 thousand hectares of woodland and projected to sequester 5.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Of these projects, 42 had been validated by the end June 2013, covering an area of 2.1 thousand hectares and projected to sequester one million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Drilling down to regions, validated projects were predicted to sequester 256 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide in England, 662 thousand tonnes in Scotland and 33 thousand tonnes in Wales.
Although the figures are relatively impressive, the pace to which businesses are signing up to these projects is still fairly slow. However, those at the Forestry Commission are seeing an increase in awareness due to the introduction of the Code. This interest has also been driven by pressure from Government, particularly since the recent changes to the Companies Act, which now requires large firms to integrate their GHG emissions with financial reports.
It has also been hailed as a more identifiable way for a company's customers to understand the potentially complex issue of carbon emissions.
According to carbon woodlands management company, Forest Carbon, businesses investigating woodlands project have usually explored their own carbon footprint, have started tackling their emissions, but are seeking a sort of carbon reward that they can allocate straight to their customers.
Through these projects, emissions reduction is becoming a more identifiable issue for a business's customers. Transparency around the project, including the emissions figures and the exact location of the woodlands, enables customers to understand the impact the project is having on the environment.
Forest Carbon co-founder James Hepburne Scott said: "It's so important that UK buyers of UK products are seeing the issue of carbon emissions supported by a UK initiative, that they are able to physically witness by visiting the woods. This way they may understand the implications better than something that is 10,000 miles away.
"It's very difficult to explain to somebody what a tonne of CO2 is and what businesses have been buying in terms of carbon offsetting. It's much easier to explain the investment in a new woodlands that is going to deliver a raft of benefits, including the sequestration of thousands of tonnes of CO2".
"CO2 is almost the extra benefit to a range of others that come with a newly created woodlands. Part of the Woodland Code process or validation that we go through involves describing the social and environmental benefits of the project, not just the carbon. Firstly, we must demonstrate why this isn't going to do any harm to the local environment and secondly, more importantly, what the benefits it will bring".
"Corporates are asking more and more to find ways of demonstrating what these non-carbon benefits are and that's part of the work in progress for the woodland carbon community".
And according to Stephen Prior, Forest Carbon founder, along with Scott, this is where the code will evolve. "The code will develop to provide a better means of describing the additional benefits more accurately, be it a social benefit or a flood mitigation benefit or biodiversity or habitat creation.
"We tend to report those benefits ourselves but I think there will be more formal language developed for the code to add colour to the individual projects,".
With the introduction of mandatory carbon reporting, Defra has explicitly mentioned the Woodland Carbon Code as a means to deal with part of a businesses impact, which, according to Prior, completes the process of bringing UK forestry formally into the family of projects that businesses can use.
Leigh Stringer is edie energy and sustainability editor