The UK Government’s Targets for Woodland Creation

17 February 2022

In January 2020, the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) released its 123-page report: “Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK,” in which it explained that:

“Sustainably managed forests are important for reducing emissions across the economy. They provide a store of carbon in the landscape and harvested wood can be used sustainably for combustion and carbon sequestration in the energy sector (e.g. when used with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology) and as wood in construction, creating an additional stock of carbon in the built environment.”

The report noted that, in 2017, the total emissions from agriculture, land use and peatlands across the UK was 58 million tonnes of CO₂e (carbon dioxide equivalent). However, the CCC argued that ‘with ambitious steps,’ these emissions could be reduced by 64% to 21 Mt CO₂ e by 2050.

Indeed, afforestation and agro-forestry would play a central role in these land use related emissions reductions. By increasing UK woodland cover from 13% to at least 17%, through planting 30,000 hectares each year until 2050, our newly planted forests and woodlands would be sequestering 14 Mt CO₂e annually by 2050.

With the government legally committed to achieving net zero emissions in the UK by 2050 and simultaneously conscious of the wider societal challenges, its 2019 manifesto also committed it to planting 30,000 hectares across the UK by 2025. Within this target, 7,000 hectares would be planted in England, 18,000 in Scotland, 2,000 in Wales and 3,000 in Northern Ireland.

A New Incentive to Plant Trees

As the chart below illustrates, these are ambitious targets. Within 5 years, we must increase the area of annual tree planting across the UK by x2.2 back to a level that we have achieved just once (in 1989) in the past 45 years. We must then maintain this level for the next 25 years. Realising these goals requires the development of an entirely new market for the valuable services which woodlands provide.

As we have seen, trees are one of the best natural carbon sinks available and therefore play a central role in helping us to reduce our carbon in the atmosphere and combat climate change.

The UK government has developed a standard which, by quantifying these benefits (it calculates the tons of CO₂e sequestered per hectare of woodland) and regulating the issuance of woodland-related carbon credits, creates a valuable, credible, and saleable product (used by carbon-emitting organisations to offset their emissions) and an incentive for landowners to plant more trees.

That standard is the Woodland Carbon Code and, with careful promotion, it holds the key to realising the UK’s ambitious woodland creation targets. While the Woodland Carbon Code outlines the rules and regulations associated with carbon-oriented tree planting, CarbonStore is the interface between woodland owners, who are looking to generate and sell woodland carbon credits, and companies keen to purchase carbon credits to mitigate their emissions and enhance our environment.

Chart: Area of New Woodland Creation in the UK, 1976-2030e (‘000 hectares).
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Pending Issuance Unit: A promise to deliver a Woodland Carbon Unit during a given period, based on the trees’ predicted growth Woodland Carbon Unit: A ton of carbon dioxide which has been sequestered in a scheme verified under the Woodland Carbon Code