Planting 3 billion trees: Carbon neutrality pitch or logging campaign?
The Korean government’s plans to plant 3 billion new trees over the next 30 years after logging aged trees in an attempt to offset carbon emissions has been raising controversy recently.
Earlier in the year, the Korea Forest Service announced plans to plant 3 billion trees over the next 30 years as a part of the country’s efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The government, through a forestation plan that will cost around 6 trillion won ($5.3 billion), aims for the absorption of some 34 million tons of carbon through the felling of old trees and planting of young ones as part of its 2050 carbon-neutral forestry sector plan.
The Forest Service claims that trees older than 30 years have poor carbon absorption capacity. Most of the planting of trees in Korea took place in the 1970s and 1980s, the forestry agency points out, saying it is time to replace them.
However, environmental groups and opposition lawmakers have called the 34-million-ton carbon absorption an inflated figure and also question the research on the lifetime carbon absorption of trees cited by the government.
Rep. Yoon Young-seok, a third-term lawmaker of the main opposition People Power Party, said Monday, “It seems that the Forest Service is pushing excessively for a forestation project that does not have a significant carbon reduction effect."
According to a report from the Korea Forest Service Monday, the government decided to expand the annual planting area from 23,000 hectares to 30,000 hectares. To this end, the annual logging scale will be increased from a timber yield of 5 million cubic meters (17.7 million cubic feet) to 8 million cubic meters.
Plans announced by the Korea Forest Service in January to plant 3 billion trees include 300 million trees to be planted in North Korea and 100 million trees in new urban forests.
However, the service has no choice but to plant the other 2.6 billion trees in existing forests after logging aged trees. The agency said that Korean pine and other native trees have low carbon absorption capacity, so it plans to plant yellow poplars and other exotic tree species.
It is expected that trees over 40 years old will be cut down in large-size economic forests, meant to stably supply timber, in Gangwon, North Gyeongsang and South Jeolla. Currently, some mountains, including in Pyeongchang, Gangwon, have become bare due to excessive logging.
A Forest Service official said, “Since most of the forests in Korea were planted in the 1970s and 1980s, their carbon absorption capacity should be on the decline. The harvested wood will be used as construction material or biomass.”
The official added, “Felling and planting new trees has been a project that we have been engaged in yearly."
The Forest Service estimates that logging will take place across 900,000 hectares, or around 38 percent of the country’s economic forests, which cover a total of 2.34 million hectares.
A Forest Service official said that in order to plant 3 billion young trees, aged around two years, some 300 million aged trees will have to be logged.
The cost of planting trees is 6.7 million won per hectare, according to the Forest Service. Thus, the logging and planting across 900,000 hectares is expected to amount to some 6.03 trillion won.
The Korea Federation for Environmental Movements in a statement last Wednesday said, “Cutting down trees in forests of this scale is a logging policy in the guise of carbon neutrality."
It added that the 34 million tons of carbon absorption by 2050 raised by the Korea Forest Service is a “largely inflated amount.”
The federation said that the Forest Service does not account for the natural ecological succession in forests over the decades, resulting in a diverse mixture of trees, and criticized that the agency “has not properly disclosed the fact that forests can be sustainable for more than 100 years.”
Some energy experts point out that rather than forestation projects, reviving nuclear power is more effective toward reaching carbon neutrality targets.
Jeong Yong-hoon, a nuclear engineering professor at KAIST, said, “It’s not that trees aren’t effective at all in absorbing carbon, but they are not as effective as the investment. If the Shin Hanul nuclear power plant’s units 3 and 4, which are currently suspended from construction, are built, we will be able to reduce 18 million tons of carbon, which is equivalent to the function of 40 percent of domestic forestation.”
The construction of the Shin Hanul nuclear power plant reactors 3 and 4 were suspended in 2017 in accordance to the Korean government’s nuclear power phase-out policy.
BY KIM BANG-HYUN, SARAH KIM [email@example.com]