Environmental economic professor warns against ‘indiscriminate’ tree planting by the Welsh Government
A Professor of Environmental and Ecological Economics has warned against “indiscriminate” tree planting by the Welsh Government as part of the drive to combat climate change.
The Welsh Government intend to plant 86 million trees over the next decade, massively increasing the amount currently being planted.
Projects include offering every household in Wales a free tree to plant and the creation of a National Forest for Wales.
Prof Michael Christie of Aberystwyth, who has chaired a new global report on how governments view the natural world, said that the Welsh Government should focus its tree-planting efforts on areas that would have the greatest benefit.
“There are more sustainable outcomes when decisions account for the full diversity of nature’s values rather than focusing on one aspect of it,” he said.
“For example, governments around the world have bold reforestation plans in place as part of their plans to reach Net Zero by 2050.
“This includes the Welsh Government, which has ambitious plans to plant 86 million trees by the end of the decade.
“If a government was to take a narrowly focused approach to this policy, it could lead to indiscriminate planting and result in loss of important habitats and productive farmland.
“However, by taking the approach recommended by the Values Assessment, governments would instead explore the full range of benefits associated with different afforestation policies.
“This could result in more natural forests that not only capture carbon, but also provide homes for wildlife, help reduce flood risks and create opportunities for outdoor recreation. It would also ensure the values of local peoples and cultures are respected.”
The Welsh Government has previously been criticised by the Countryside Alliance for planting trees on what the Alliance say is productive agricultural land, and campaigners have also raised concerns about companies buying farms for tree planting.
The Welsh Affairs Committee of MPs has also raised concerns that farmers could be priced out of their own land by those who want to plant trees to offset carbon emissions.
The Welsh Government, however, has said that any tree planting will need their permission and be closely regulated.
The Values Assessment, co-chaired by Prof Michael Christie, found that the natural world’s real value is often ignored in favour of short-term profits and economic growth.
The landmark report published this week was four years in the making and involved 82 scientists across 47 countries, arguing there should be a shift in how governments view the natural world.
Political decision-making is complex and must handle competing tensions. A development project can create jobs and boost GDP, but it can also lead to species loss and destroy heritage sites, it says.
It says governments predominantly prioritise market-based aspects of nature, such as intensive agriculture, but overlook its contributions to people, such as climate and cultural identity.
Ana María Hernández Salgar, Chair of IPBES, said: “Biodiversity is being lost and nature’s contributions to people are being degraded faster now that at any other point in human history.
“This is largely because our current approach to political and economic decisions does not sufficiently account for the diversity of nature’s values.
“The information, analysis and tools offered by the Values Assessment make an invaluable contribution to that process, to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and to shifting all decisions towards better values-centred outcomes for people and the rest of nature.”
Policymakers need to recognise and respect the worldviews, values and knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities to ensure governance is fairer for citizens and nature, the report authors argue.
By changing decision-making to value the varied aspects of nature, governments can make the systemic changes required to address the global biodiversity crisis.
The organisation behind the report, IPBES, is an independent intergovernmental body comprising 139 member governments.
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