The UK wants to plant trees on UK soil.
Lot's of them.
In fact, the recently-released England Tree Strategy Consultation states that the country will spend approximately 540 million pounds on increased planting—in part to meet its net zero climate commitments by 2050—with the ultimate goal of planting more than 74,000 acres of trees every year by 2025.
That’s great news. Indeed, trees are the most effective means to capture and store carbon, making them critical in the fight against climate change.
BUT it doesn’t make a ton of sense given that the UK is decimating forests abroad to fuel its biomass electricity plants like Drax. This is doubly nonsensical when wind and solar energy are low-cost, reliable and readily available in the UK. And even crazier when you consider that the UK is spending 1.5 billion pounds per year to subsidize tree-burning for electricity.
That’s right—the UK is the world’s top importer of wood pellets to fuel its electricity plants, importing nearly 8 million tons of wood pellets for this purpose every year. These wood pellets, in turn, are routinely sourced from clearcuts of mature hardwood and pine forests in the U.S., Estonia, and other countries. To add to this parade of horribles, this practice only accelerates climate change through a double whammy of eliminating critical carbon sinks to power an industry that emits 13 million tons of CO2 into the air annually. Per Drax’s own annual report, most of the biomass it burns comes from whole trees, even though it refers to them with terms like “thinnings” and “low grade roundwood.”
It seems very hypocritical—and a little selfish—for the Tree Consultation to discuss the importance of trees to communities, the goal of restoring woodlands and other habitats, and the need to engage people with nature, given they’re actually stripping people in other countries of these benefits as they do it. Not only is the UK’s biomass production robbing the U.S. and others of trees and the wildlife that depend on them, but it’s also directly harming the health of people who live by wood pellet manufacturing factories, which emit all kinds of harmful things into the air.
The root of all this, of course, is that fact that the UK has long-promoted biomass electricity production as a renewable resource when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead of “meeting” its net zero commitment with an energy production method that’s going to make the WHOLE PLANET WORSE OFF, the UK should stop lying to itself and invest in real clean and renewable alternatives like solar and wind (if you live in the UK, you can tell it to do just that right here).
Trees are important. The UK’s Tree Strategy wholeheartedly acknowledges that. So why is the UK so intent on continuing (and subsidizing) an industry that depends on cutting them down and burning them?