A new Oxfam report is warning that relying too much on tree-planting offsets will endanger the world’s food supply—just as Royal Dutch Shell pushes hard to open a new oil field that would require a new forest the size of England to offset its emissions.
While approximately 350 million hectares of land could be safely put to the service of tree-planting offsets, that is not nearly enough to fill the needs of all the companies and countries signalling their inclination to use trees as a net-zero strategy, reports The Guardian.
Switzerland, for example, has announced plans to offset 12.5% of its emissions through carbon credit projects in Peru and Ghana. The Guardian notes that the territory needed for that country alone to accomplish its goal is five million hectares—an area the size of Costa Rica.
Then there is the land that would be required should those most directly responsible for the climate crisis seek to offset their emissions by planting trees.
Citing Oxfam’s estimates, The Guardian writes that Shell’s offset plans would require more than 28 million hectares by 2050, while BP’s could take up another 22.5 million hectares, and Italian fossil Eni’s as much as 16 million.
That has Oxfam climate policy experts like report co-author Nafkote Dabi asking where, exactly, all this land is going to come from. According to estimates, if all the land claimed by all the entities that have announced plans for carbon credit-style offsets were actually used for that purpose, food prices could rise by 80%.
That’s at a time when “already, hundreds of millions of people around the world are going hungry,” said Dabi.
Oxfam Great Britain CEO Danny Sriskandarajah told The Guardian that many businesses and governments—most notably those involved in the oil and gas sector—“are hiding behind the smokescreen of ‘net zero’ to continue dirty business-as-usual activities” while designing plans to use up “ludicrous” amounts of land for planting and other carbon credit schemes. While some governments and companies are taking “bold action” on their net-zero plans, he said, “there are currently too few to give us a realistic chance of averting climate catastrophe and the widespread hunger and devastation that come with it.”
Shell has rejected Oxfam’s estimates, insisting through a spokesperson that “meeting a net-zero target requires fundamentally changing the forms of energy Shell supplies and then using offsets at the margin to compensate for any remaining emissions.” As the company “shifts its portfolio” further into lower-carbon energy sources, the spokesperson said, “it could well be that the emissions associated with energy sold by Shell in 2050 is less than the quantity of carbon credits we expect to be able to supply our customers in 2030.”
But Shell still seems determined to press ahead with its Cambo oil field project in the North Sea. Along with co-owner Siccar Point Energy, the Dutch-British fossil shows no signs of reconsidering its quest to extract between 150 and 170 million barrels of oil from off the Shetland coast by 2050.
But reconsider it must, says Oxfam. iNews says the charity is warning in its new report that offsetting the climate impacts of Cambo—which contains enough oil to release an estimated 132 million tonnes of CO2—would require reforesting a territory the size of England itself.