Science & Environment

MPs question ministers on tree-planting plans

Hazel leaves (Image: BBC)
Image caption Trees have become a central component of governments' and businesses' strategy to achieve net-zero carbon emissions

MPs have quizzed Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers on the government's tree-planting strategy.

Ms Villiers said she hoped a £640m nature-for-climate fund would "deliver a massive uplift in tree planting".

The Conservatives made a manifesto pledge to plant up to 75,000 acres of trees annually by 2050.

But Labour's environment spokesman said billions of trees needed to be planted by 2050, not the millions projected by the government.

Responding to a question from the Tory MP for Gloucester, Richard Graham, Ms Villiers said that the Environment Bill contained "important changes to the planning system" that would encourage investment in, among other things, tree planting.

Shadow Environment Secretary Dr Alan Whitehead asked whether Ms Villiers accepted that the primary purpose of planting trees in the "current climate crisis" was to provide a carbon sink.

"In that contest," Dr Whitehead observed, "the Committee on Climate Change suggest that the planting of, perhaps 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres) per annum up to 2050."

He asked the environment secretary whether she agreed that missing the current target of planting 11 million trees, which he said was being missed by 71%, was tiny and "almost amounted to greenwash?"

Ms Villiers, speaking in the Commons on Thursday, agreed that the nation needed "to step up massively our tree planting" and added that the government was determined to do so.

Offsetting carbon emissions via tree planting schemes seem to have become one of the central climate-policy instruments being adopted by governments and businesses around the globe.

Global climate saviour?

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an initiative to plant one trillion trees was launched.

Image copyright Parliament
Image caption Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers acknowledge that the nation needed to "step up massively" when it came to tree planting

The ambitious scheme received backing from a wide range of supporters, including naturalist Jane Goodall to US President Donald Trump.

In the UK, the Woodland Trust recently published an "emergency tree plan" in order to increase tree cover in the UK, which lags far behind its European neighbours.

The Trust recommended that any new policy needed to ensure quality as well as quantity of new tree cover, adding that it was important to protect the trees that were currently in the ground as well as ensuring the protection of new tree cover.

Ms Villiers also told MPs in the Commons that the government would be "consulting soon on a tree strategy for England to further drive forward this crucial task of planting more trees in this country."