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How phantom forests are used for greenwashing

May 16, 2022

By Paul Homewood


No S**t Sherlock!!




Capturing carbon by increasing forest cover has become central to the fight against climate change. But there’s a problem. Sometimes these forests exist on paper only – because promises have not been kept, or because planted trees have died or even been harvested. A new effort will now be made to track success and failure.

Dr Jurgenne Primavera is being paddled in a canoe along the coast of Iloilo in the Philippines. It’s an idyllic scene but she is frowning. Six years ago these shallow waters were planted with mangroves as part of the country’s ambitious National Greening Programme, but now there is nothing to see but blue water and blue sky.

Ninety per cent of the seedlings died, Dr Primavera says, because the type of mangrove planted was suited to muddy creeks rather than this sandy coastal area. The government preferred it, she suggests, because it is readily available and easy to plant.

"Science was sacrificed for convenience in the planting."

The National Greening Programme was an attempt to grow 1.5 million hectares of forest and mangroves between 2011 and 2019 but a withering report from the country’s Commission on Audit found that in the first five years 88% of it had failed…..

Tim Christophersen, until this month head of Nature for Climate with the UN Environment Programme, says that of the one billion hectares of landscape that countries have promised to restore worldwide "most" remains a promise rather than a reality.

In some cases, grandiose planting programmes have gone ahead, but have delivered limited results. The BBC has investigated a dozen examples that have flopped – as in the Philippines – usually because insufficient care was taken.

The Philippines government did not respond to requests to comment on the official Commission on Audit assessment that 88% of the National Greening Programme failed.

The local authority that planted what Dr Primavera considers to be the wrong mangrove species for coastal sites disagreed with her, saying that 50% of seedlings had survived in some locations.

In the Philippines at least an audit was published; in many other countries results are unclear.

The Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, for example, has planted tens of millions of saplings in the last five years, but when the BBC went to check new plantations near Banda, it found few alive.

Signs still proudly announced the plantations’ existence, but scrubland plants were taking over.

Prof Ashish Aggarwal of the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow says India has covered an area the size of Denmark with plantations since the 1990s, but national surveys show forest cover increasing only gradually.

"Even at a survival rate of 50%, we should have seen more than 20 million hectares of trees and forests," he says. "But that hasn’t happened – the data does not show that addition."

According to the deputy director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Tina Vahanen, this problem is widespread, not confined to India.

"Many of the plantations have been promotional events," she says, "with no follow-up action that is really needed to grow trees."

The BBC found a different kind of problem in Mozambique, which has allowed private companies to plant large monoculture plantations as part of its contribution to the AFR100 forest landscape restoration initiative.

While many plantations have grown successfully, it’s alleged that in some cases mature natural forest has been felled to make space.

Why any of this should comes as a surprise beats me!

The harsh reality is that most of these third world countries have no interest in global warming, or for that matter forestry. All they are interested in is the money handed out to them either directly or via carbon offsets.

As the BBC report, many of the plantations have been promotional events with no follow-up action that is really needed to grow trees.

Moreover, in many of these places, forests would grow naturally anyway, without the need for politicians’ greenwashing.

  1. John Wallace permalink
    May 16, 2022 10:25 am

    First world countries are equally guilty.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      May 16, 2022 11:48 am

      over 10 years ago I was talking to a retired wheat farmer from WA who commented on this.
      The region he had farmed in was regularly hit by drought, but several local farmers had a new source of income; they planted eucalyptus seedlings on otherwise dry land. For this they received Carbon Offsets from European companies. No-one bothered to check after the farmers supplied photos/video of the new plantings. That none survived for the first year wasn’t a consideration in the Carbon Market, and after 2 years a repeat scam was run.

      He was indignant and contemptous of those running that scam but when the weather changed sold his farm and retired to another State.

  2. Mike Jackson permalink
    May 16, 2022 10:26 am

    And since carbon sequestration is unnecessary anyway …

  3. Frank permalink
    May 16, 2022 10:29 am

    My Local Council is voluntarily paying N Power large extra amounts on their Electricity Bill for “gauranteed Green Energy” and after 9 months of obfuscation they still refuse to give me sight of the minutes of the decision making meetings or process. I asked N Power for confirmation of the audits of their Rego Certificates and got nowhere. I believe there is probably a major greenwashing scandal waiting to be uncovered here.

  4. It doesn't add up... permalink
    May 16, 2022 10:38 am

    The Mail follows up on Rowlatt:

    Good to see the editor allowing Ross Clark more space

  5. Harry Passfield permalink
    May 16, 2022 11:21 am

    As the BBC reported on this scam perhaps they could wheel out Rowlatt so that he can claim, with his usual diligence, how it’s all above board and that forests are flourishing all over the world.

  6. Philip Mulholland permalink
    May 16, 2022 11:45 am

    Ninety per cent of the seedlings died, Dr Primavera says, because the type of mangrove planted was suited to muddy creeks rather than this sandy coastal area.

    Planting native tree saplings has been my life-long hobby and study. Plantation woodland in a natural un-managed settling is extraordinarily difficult to achieve and requires detailed ecological knowledge. My MSc Ecological Conservation study of woodland regeneration in Epping Forest, Essex UK, was driven in part by this question of what are the criteria for sapling germination and survival. This leads to the key point, except for suckering species that can spread from root growth, trees are typically only adapted to locations where their seeds can germinate. In short trees do not move around and so the identification of the key environmental factors for germination is critical to wild planting success.

  7. May 16, 2022 12:09 pm

    There are two factors going on here: 1. vast sums on money being thrown to corrupt people/groups 2. decisions made by “environmentalists” who are not schooled in either taxonomy or ecology and thus consistently make the wrong decisions. West Virginia had some of the same situations the the reclamation of coal strip mines. The companies were required to replant the areas and bought from companies who had exotic species for cheap. We have learned to use native species which thrive and reproduce and companies are now supplying those plants. Now we are dealing with the consequences of these exotic species, such as autumn olive, multiflora rose and lespedeza.

    The environmentalists who infest these do-good, save-the-world institutions are notoriously ignorant of real science. Nor do they care….follow the money. These folks are the ones who want to be patted on the head or slapped on the back for their good intentions. To this I say, “intentions count for nothing….results count for everything.”

    In some cases, it is best to do nothing. Just sit back and let nature take its course. There is such a thing as succession and it does not require a lot of money administered by corrupt know-nothings.

    • Martin Brumby permalink
      May 16, 2022 12:56 pm

      You have to admit, Joan: It’s got to be really tough to be paddled round the Philippines on full pay and expenses, whilst you have to sit in the canoe frowning.

      I wonder if anyone ever considered that, so far as I am aware, Mangrove has zero commercial value, so it is very unlikely that Philippino crooks have been uprooting the plants or Philippino yobs have been vandalising them. If Mangroves aren’t there to be found already, chances are very good that “Gaia” isn’t bothered about them growing there and conditions are unsuitable.

      The only imaginable good thing about this pathetic tale is that some poor people got paid a few dollars for pretending to plant Mangroves and the Philippino Government pretends to pay them, no doubt using our overseas ‘aid’. It would, of course, be more efficient to just pay our ‘aid’ directly to the various Swiss bank accounts of all the third world politicians. But that way the Philippinos would not even get the crumbs from the table.

      And as the first commenter observes, this happens also in the “First” World. The only benefit here is that there are swarms of GangGreen loonies with the latest smartphone who will be most eager to moan about promised woodland not appearing.

      But there is another problem with tree planting in the UK and that is lack of maintenance. For years it has been common to ‘Condition’ major Planning schemes, to plant belts or even large areas of trees. It is normally demanded that native hardwood trees are planted, with oaks often specified for the main woodland species and hazel, birch, rowan etc. as ‘nursery’ planting, all the trees being planted in rows at 1 metre spacings, usually with rabbit netting and so forth.

      The idea then, is to return annually, replacing trees that have died (or been eaten) and grass cutting, so that after a decade or so, the fastest growing trees will start to shade out competitive weeds etc. and then some ‘nurse’ trees should be removed and others pollarded such that the desired oaks, ash, beech etc. gradually take over.

      I have been involved in schemes with 50 year management schemes imposed on the developer. How many developers actually carry out this level of maintenance for more than 5 years (if you are lucky)?

      The Coal Industry, after about 1980, created an extremely high proportion of such schemes in Coal Mining areas and won cabinets full of gongs and certificates for the quality of much of their work. But of course, the Coal Industry no longer exists and the farmers or the “Crown Estates” who finished up with the carefully restored spoil heaps or surface mine sites, have other priorities.

      Now, the only way that most people could identify the old sites is that horrible, crowded areas of spindly trees, growing at metre centres, are struggling to survive. And the Council Planning Officers? Again – more important things to worry about, I guess.

      • May 17, 2022 12:42 pm

        A grad student study from the WVU Division of Forestry, Wildlife Dept., in the 1980’s looked at several “un-reclaimed” strip mine areas outside town in a wooded area compared with several nearby “reclaimed” of similar age. He found that the so-called un-reclaimed sites actually had better native vegetation cover than the reclaimed ones.

    • Philip Mulholland permalink
      May 16, 2022 1:35 pm

      In some cases, it is best to do nothing. Just sit back and let nature take its course. There is such a thing as succession and it does not require a lot of money administered by corrupt know-nothings.

      Spot on Joan.
      As part of my Ecological Conservation course we visited a reclaimed concealed coalfield spoil tip in Nottinghamshire in the early 1980s. The acid nature of the made ground was in stark contrast to the surrounding more mull soils of the overburden strata and so natural regeneration was sparse on the spoil. When I suggested that they introduce acid moorland species to the site this was turned down because they were not native to the area! The neighbouring county has naturally acid soils at outcrop where these moorland plants thrive.
      The ecological ignorance was palpable.

      • May 17, 2022 12:52 pm

        Dealing w/ bureaucracy is frustrating. My late father always said that the purpose of a bureaucracy was to maintain and expand itself.

        I am wondering about the planting of hardwoods where there is “nothing.” Hardwoods (maple, oak, beech, etc.), require shade to flourish for their first number of years. That is why they appear after a significant cover from the first successional species (pines, sumac, black cherry etc.) provides enough shade for them. When established, they take over and shade out the early successional species. If they run around planting small hardwoods in open areas, they likely will not survive.

        I also have a question as to the mangrove situation. Why were there not mangroves there to begin with???? As I understand mangrove, they are not shy about multiplying…..

      • Philip Mulholland permalink
        May 17, 2022 10:22 pm

        Here in the British Isles, we have a limited range of tree species compared to North America for two reasons, first is the Island Area effect which means we have less species than adjacent continental Europe, and then there is the ice-age refugia and mountain barrier to migration effect by which Europe itself with its east-west Alpine ranges of mountains has far fewer species than North America where the Appalachians and Western Cordillera run north-south.

        My studies of the woodland ecology in Epping Forest and the New Forest suggest that succession can be split into three main groups, 1. Pioneer species, 2. Improver species and 3. Exploiter species.
        For us with our limited number of species the main Pioneers are Birch, Willows Aspen and our single Pine species. All of these genera have small wind-borne seeds with a high dispersal strategy and a requirement for either bare ground following fire or a moss-covered surface in the case of invasion of canopy gaps in mature woodland dominated by shallow rooted Beech.

        Typically, after 60 to 100 years of Birch woodland the ground flora becomes well established and with the presence of a deep bracken litter the pioneers cannot follow on in the absence of fire and so the next stage of the succession occurs. Now the requirement is for a large seed with a sufficient energy reserve on germination to produce a seedling capable of growing a deep tap root to reach down to the mineral soil layer. Typically, this means Oak and Sweet Chestnut. These species are soil improvers. With their deep roots they bring minerals to the surface via the annual leaf fall and with their shade they set the scene for stage three of the process, the invasion of the exploiter species.

        Beech is a typical exploiter species, it is highly shade tolerant, has shallow roots to mine the rich mull woodland soil and also has a drooping leader that allows the growing tree to rapidly penetrate the oak canopy during the summer season of low wind. By this means the taller beech ultimately over top, shade out and replace the smaller English Oak (Q robur). As an interesting aside shade tolerant shallow rooting Hemlocks (Tsuga) have the same drooping leader strategy and in coniferous woodlands occupy the same niche as beech do in deciduous woodlands.

        Finally with the establishment of the exploiter Beech two things happen, the woodland floor becomes bare and mineral poor due to the intense surface root competition and heavy shade. Now only moss will grow below the Beech trees which on death and collapse set the scene for the invasion of Birch once again as the light from the canopy gap reaches the moss-covered floor, an ideal seed bed for Birch germination. The nature conservation concerns that Beech was not following on in Epping Forest is simply that we were looking at a succession with too small a time frame. The true cycle of Birch, then Oak, then Beech and so back to Birch typically takes place over a period of hundreds of years.

    • Gamecock permalink
      May 16, 2022 2:51 pm

      “Now we are dealing with the consequences of these exotic species, such as autumn olive, multiflora rose and lespedeza.”

      Bogus complaint. Their being “exotic” is irrelevant. No one complains that honey bees are exotic.

      While E. umbellata and L. cuneata are technically “exotic,” it conveys the wrong meaning. I think “introduced” and/or “naturalized” better describes them. These two are ubiquitous. Complaining about their being “exotic” is silly. That ship sailed generations ago. Complain about their specific attributes if you must.*

      Wholeheartedly agree that natural succession would be best, as happens here after forests are cleared and not replanted. Coal companies were likely forced into more immediate action. Had to do something, even if wrong.

      *Autumn olive makes excellent hedges. Quite fragrant in spring, too. It’s use to cover large, multi-acre sites is bizarre.

      Lespedeza, however, can be useful for erosion control and nitrogen fixing, so it’s not crazy to plant it, if you have to plant something.

      I have no knowledge of multiflora rose.

      • May 17, 2022 12:33 pm

        In the scientific community, introduced species are now termed “exotic”. I am resorting to the latest terminology for such plants that is used in literature.

        To get the latest information on certain species, I turned to Wikipedia which I have found to be excellent for plants. It provides the scientific breakdown. I have copied pertinent sections of their descriptions and pasted below. At one time, all were promoted by the US Agriculture Department as the “second coming” for problem solving, but have become huge problems themselves.

        Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata): “In its origin regions of tropical and temperate Asia, E. umbellata is not considered to be an invasive species, but in many world regions, it has become invasive across wild and cultivated areas, particularly in the eastern United States. In the early 19th century, E. umbellata was purposely introduced to the United States and the United Kingdom for shelter belts, erosion control, wasteland reclamation, wildlife habitat, and for gardens as an ornamental. By the late 20th century, the shrub became a noxious weed and invasive species in many US states from the east coast to the central prairies, and spread widely across Europe.”

        Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora): “It is native to eastern Asia, in China, Japan and Korea. In eastern North America, Rosa multiflora is considered an invasive species. It was originally introduced from Asia as a soil conservation measure, as a natural hedge to border grazing land, and to attract wildlife. In some regions the plant is classified as a noxious weed. In grazing areas, it is generally considered to be a serious pest, though it is considered excellent fodder for goats.”

        Perhaps you are more familiar with Kudzu (Pueraria spp) as I have seen it draping over large areas of the southeastern United States: “was introduced from Japan into the United States at the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It was also shown at the Chicago World’s Fair. It remained a garden plant until the Dust Bowl era (1930s–1940s), when the vine was marketed as a way for farmers to stop soil erosion. The new Soil Conservation Service grew seventy million kudzu seedlings and paid $8 an acre to anyone who would sow the vine. Road and rail builders planted kudzu to stabilize steep slopes. Farmer and journalist Channing Cope, dubbed “kudzu kid” in a 1949 Time profile, popularised it in the South as a fix for eroded soils. He started the Kudzu Club of America, which, by 1943, had 20,000 members. Where these plants are naturalized, they can be invasive and are considered noxious weeds.”

        Be careful what you wish for…..

      • Gamecock permalink
        May 17, 2022 8:28 pm

        ‘Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) was originally introduced into the United States from east Asia in 1866’

        L. cuneata ‘was first planted in the US in North Carolina in 1896.’

        ‘Autumn Olive was introduced into North America in 1830.’

        Joan, my complaint is with your complaint:

        “The companies were required to replant the areas and bought from companies who had exotic species for cheap. We have learned to use native species which thrive and reproduce and companies are now supplying those plants. Now we are dealing with the consequences of these exotic species, such as autumn olive, multiflora rose and lespedeza.”

        Your complaint is that they are “exotic,” not with their attributes. These three plants have been widely planted for many generations and are still being actively used by many organizations today.

        I was taught the conservation value of Sericea lespedeza, as it was called then, over 50 years ago. In fact, there is a pattern here: all three of these species have high wildlife value. I suspect WV DNR was involved with their selection, and not because someone sold “for cheap.”

        Your complaining that they are exotic is goofy. They may be the most widely used plants for conservation in the southeast U.S.

        Complain about their attributes, not their origin.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      May 16, 2022 5:17 pm

      As has been demonstrated with oil spills. For Exxon Valdez, some areas weren’t cleaned as test areas. Lo and behold, they recovered faster and with greater biodiversity. I have an old farm in South West France and I can’t stop oak trees germinating as the wild boars and others spread the acorns around. But if I plant an acorn where I actually want a tree, forget it!

      • Philip Mulholland permalink
        May 16, 2022 5:36 pm

        Nice example.
        What you need to do is pen an area, collect and scatter a few bushels of acorns collected from seed traps beneath the oak canopy, introduce some hogs, job done.
        This was the policy adopted by a Shropshire nature conservationist a while back. Mimic the natural process. The hogs turned over so much ground that they always buried and missed some of the acorns.

        Wild Boar Impact to the Natural Regeneration of Oak and Acorn Importance in its Diet

  8. Broadlands permalink
    May 16, 2022 1:00 pm

    Dr Jurgenne Primavera should remember and recognize that nothing was planted, or will be planted, from a canoe. That means using the fuels that the oil industry has been providing us to make all our lives better. Net zero goals are doing the opposite. Our added CO2 is making the Earth greener as seen from NASA satellites.

  9. Joe Public permalink
    May 16, 2022 1:36 pm

    On the subject of greenwashing via trees, I wonder if the Norfolk Rivers Trust can advise the number of survivors, and, provide 2016 vs 2021 averages of the temperatures of the rivers Bure and Yare, so that taxpayers who funded the £thousands cost of the project can judge whether the minute fraction of a ℃ reduction (indistinguishable from zero), has been value for money?

    “The Norfolk Rivers Trust, working in partnership with the Environment Agency, is planting 1,300 trees along the banks of the River Bure and the River Yare under the Keeping Rivers Cool initiative.

    The project aims to reduce water temperature in the river by providing shade ….”

  10. Mack permalink
    May 16, 2022 2:04 pm

    Didn’t that Coldplay chap have a disaster with tree-planting ?

  11. dennisambler permalink
    May 16, 2022 3:22 pm

    This is reminiscent of the CFC scam highlighted by Christopher Booker in 2010.

    Because CFC’s are also classed as greenhouse gases, their destruction can qualify under the UN Clean Development Mechanism, CDM. China and India were producing CFCs in order to then destroy them and claim Certificates of Emission Reduction, (CER) under the CDM.

    The whole “Plant trees to save the Planet” meme is nonsense anyway. The purported “CO2 capture amounts” are purely academic and occur only in spreadsheets. No-one can actually measure it, how would they? dot html
    “Chemical reactions involving tree V.O.C.s produce methane and ozone, two powerful greenhouse gases, and form particles that can affect the condensation of clouds.

    While trees provide carbon storage, forestry is not a permanent solution because trees and soil also “breathe” — that is, burn oxygen and release carbon dioxide back into the air. Eventually, all of the carbon finds its way back into the atmosphere when trees die or burn.

    Moreover, it is a myth that photosynthesis controls the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere.
    Even if all photosynthesis on the planet were shut down, the atmosphere’s oxygen content would change by less than 1 percent.

    The Amazon rain forest is often perceived as the lungs of the planet. In fact, almost all the oxygen the Amazon produces during the day remains there and is reabsorbed by the forest at night. In other words, the Amazon rain forest is a closed system that uses all its own oxygen and carbon dioxide.”
    “The Amazon River outgasses nearly an equivalent amount of CO2 as the rainforest sequesters on an annual basis due to microbial decomposition of terrigenous and aquatic organic matter.”

    Professor Philip Stott wrote this in 2003:

    “At the end of the last ice age, only some 12-18000 years ago, the tropics were covered by seasonal savannah grasslands, cooler and much drier than now. There were no rain forests in the Malay Peninsula and much of Amazonia, and, despite the increasing human development of forested space, there are still more rain forests persisting than existed then.

    As in Europe and North America, the forests came and went as climate changed; there is no Clementsian “long period of control” under one climate. Beneath many rain forests, there are sheets of ash, a testimony in the soil to past fires and non-forested landscapes.”

  12. dennisambler permalink
    May 16, 2022 3:32 pm

    Massive loss of trees in the Middle Ages for ship building, “Hearts of Oak” and all that. Windsor Castle, built by William the Conqueror, took almost 4000 oak trees. In 2019, the Queen approved the felling of some of the remaining oaks, some 1000 years old, to build a replica of an Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo. I can’t remember if the heir to the throne objected.

  13. George Herraghty permalink
    May 16, 2022 5:13 pm

    Phantom Forests?
    An astonishing 13,900,000 trees have been felled in Scotland, since 2000, to make room for giant industrial wind farms, sorry subsidy farms, trashing our landscapes.

  14. Phoenix44 permalink
    May 16, 2022 5:22 pm

    Only now do they think they ought to track whether its done and whether it works?

    What a farce.

  15. Saighdear permalink
    May 16, 2022 8:18 pm

    Just a timely reminder: today we’ve had a 2nd bout of rain, enough to create puddles with the yellow pollen fringes. Many people suffer, now needlessly more than decades ago with “hay-fever” and especially after the covid fiasco, do not wantto put trust in modern medications …. the more trees, the more pollen. to keep the green blob happy. Meanwhile Sturgeon and yon other bloke ( forgotten his name ) amok ? are blabbing about greater continued effort …bla bla bla.
    It’s been a cold and windy May locally. Young fruit trashed a nd threshed off the trees – probably never pollinated properly as it was so cold through APril. Our investment, our Loss, YOUR SCAM OF Warming, etc …..

  16. Peter Qualey permalink
    May 17, 2022 12:45 am

    Did you mean –
    “No schist Sherlock”
    It’s totally clear as alluvial deposits.

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