Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground & Trees Standing

Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground & Trees Standing

Keeping fossil fuels in the ground and trees standing would solve the issue of climate change. It may sound simple, but this would alleviate most – if not all – of the effects of global warming.

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are increasing the Earth’s temperature.1 CO2 is the main greenhouse gas. It accounts for about 80 per cent of all emissions.2 Burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees are two key sources of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.3 

Carbon capture and storage

Some fossil fuel companies are investing in carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities. They see it as justification for extracting and using more oil, coal and natural gas. 

This is because CCS technologies can capture CO2 from fuel combustion or industrial processes.4 It can then be transported and stored permanently underground.5 CCS has the potential to minimise CO2 emissions. This would allow the continued combustion of fossil fuels.

Currently, however, 80 per cent of captured carbon is used for enhanced oil recovery.6 This means it is used to extract more fossil fuels. It is, therefore, not being stored to prevent it from contributing to global warming. 

Past CCS projects

CCS has had many expensive failures. For example, Algeria’s In Salah project was a joint CCS venture between BP, Statoil and national energy company Sonatrach.7 It cost an estimated USD $2.7 billion.8 The project captured and compressed CO2 from the Krechba gas field production site.9 This CO2 was then re-injected into a shallow gas reservoir two kilometres below the ground.10

Storage of captured CO2 began at In Salah in 2004.11 There were hopes that the project would store 17 million tonnes of CO2 over the following 20 years.12 However, the injection of CO2 into the rock formation was halted in 2011. Concerns over CO2 leaking from the rock formation forced its early closure.13

Failures like this make the future of CCS uncertain. These failures, therefore, support the idea of simply leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

Leave trees standing

Our existing forests already remove about 30 per cent of human-made CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.14 A mature tree captures on average about 22 kilograms of CO2 per year through photosynthesis.15 Over a 100-year lifespan, a tree can store a tonne of CO2.16 Without them, we will not be able to limit global warming to 1.5°C.17 

Planting more trees will help soak up more carbon. It is essential that the right trees are planted in the right places.18 It is also crucial to note that it can take decades for saplings to absorb as much CO2 as mature trees.19 For this reason, it is more important to leave our current trees standing than to plant more trees. 

In addition, forests are home to 80 per cent of all land-based animals and plants.20 Razing forests means destroying their habitats. Planting trees cannot always replace complex ecosystems and fragile habitats. Deforestation is already responsible for an estimated 50,000 species going extinct every year.21

Tree planting ‘greenwashing’ initiatives

Fossil fuel companies that claim to offset their carbon emissions by planting more trees are not truly compensating for the damage they cause. 

Shell and the Scottish government have come under criticism for ‘greenwashing’. Scottish ministers accepted GBP £5 million from oil company Shell in 2019 to help fund a tree-planting programme. Shell aims to offset about 20 per cent of its CO2 emissions by funding the planting or regeneration of one million trees.22

Is the Shell and Scottish government deal greenwashing?

GBP £5 million over five years for tree planting is minimal compared to what Shell invests in investigating new oil and gas reserves.23 It does not compensate for the CO2 emissions caused by extracting, refining and burning fossil fuels.24 Those emissions will still be added to the atmosphere.  

Preventing global warming

To reduce the atmospheric concentration of CO2, we need to stop producing fossil fuels entirely. We also need to protect and enhance our best natural solution to climate change – forests. In other words, we need to leave our trees standing.

There is no other way to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals and prevent an environmental catastrophe.

Sources

  1. NASA (2018). The Causes of Climate Change. [online] Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. Available at: https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/.
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency (2018). Overview of Greenhouse Gases. [online] US EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases.
  3. NASA (2018). The Causes of Climate Change. [online] Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. Available at: https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/.
  4. IEA. (n.d.). Carbon capture, utilisation and storage – Fuels & Technologies. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/carbon-capture-utilisation-and-storage.
  5. IEA. (n.d.). Carbon capture, utilisation and storage – Fuels & Technologies. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/carbon-capture-utilisation-and-storage.
  6. IEA. (n.d.). CCUS in Clean Energy Transitions – Analysis. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/ccus-in-clean-energy-transitions.
  7. www.zeroco2.no. (n.d.). In Salah — zeroco2. [online] Available at: http://www.zeroco2.no/projects/in-salah [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  8. sequestration.mit.edu. (n.d.). Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies @ MIT. [online] Available at: http://sequestration.mit.edu/tools/projects/in_salah.html [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  9. www.zeroco2.no. (n.d.). In Salah — zeroco2. [online] Available at: http://www.zeroco2.no/projects/in-salah [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  10. www.zeroco2.no. (n.d.). In Salah — zeroco2. [online] Available at: http://www.zeroco2.no/projects/in-salah [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  11. sequestration.mit.edu. (n.d.). Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies @ MIT. [online] Available at: http://sequestration.mit.edu/tools/projects/in_salah.html [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  12. www.zeroco2.no. (n.d.). In Salah — zeroco2. [online] Available at: http://www.zeroco2.no/projects/in-salah [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  13. sequestration.mit.edu. (n.d.). Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies @ MIT. [online] Available at: http://sequestration.mit.edu/tools/projects/in_salah.html [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  14. Houghton, R., Birdsey, R., Nassikas, A. and Mcglinchey, D. (n.d.). Forests and Land Use: Undervalued Assets for Global Climate Stabilization A BRIDGE TO A FOSSIL-FUEL FREE WORLD. [online] . Available at: https://www.woodwellclimate.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/PB_Forests_and_Land_Use.pdf.
  15. European Environment Agency. (2012). Trees help tackle climate change. [online] Available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/articles/forests-health-and-climate-change/key-facts/trees-help-tackle-climate-change.
  16. Institute, G. (2015). How much CO2 can trees take up? [online] Climate & Environment at Imperial. Available at: https://granthaminstitute.com/2015/09/02/how-much-co2-can-trees-take-up/.
  17. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  18. the Guardian. (2019). Replanting Britain: “It’s about the right tree in the right place.” [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/dec/28/replanting-britain-its-about-the-right-tree-in-the-right-place [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  19. Pacific Forest Trust. (2014). E&E: Old trees store more carbon, more quickly, than younger trees. [online] Available at: https://www.pacificforest.org/ee-old-trees-store-more-carbon-more-quickly-than-younger-trees/#:~:text=Pacific%20Forest%20Trust-.
  20. WWF (2000). Forest Habitat | Habitats | WWF. [online] World Wildlife Fund. Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/forest-habitat.
  21. www.worldanimalfoundation.com. (n.d.). Deforestation: Clearing The Path For Wildlife Extinctions. [online] Available at: https://www.worldanimalfoundation.com/advocate/wild-earth/params/post/1278141/deforestation-clearing-the-path-for-wildlife-extinctions#:~:text=Seventy%20percent%20of%20the%20Earth.
  22. the Guardian. (2019). Scottish ministers face criticism for £5m Shell tree-planting scheme. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/15/scottish-ministers-face-criticism-shell-tree-planting-scheme [Accessed 1 Apr. 2021].
  23. Edwards, R. (2020). Government officials worried that tree deal with Shell was “greenwashing.” [online] The Ferret. Available at: https://theferret.scot/shell-greenwashing-forestry-land-scotland/.
  24. Edwards, R. (2020). Government officials worried that tree deal with Shell was “greenwashing.” [online] The Ferret. Available at: https://theferret.scot/shell-greenwashing-forestry-land-scotland/.