Reaching net zero carbon is a major challenge, and many policymakers are relying in part on planting trees and restoring natural habitats to mop up emissions that are difficult to avoid. For example, the UK Environment Agency is exploring the idea of restoring salt marshland to reach its net zero goal by 2030. In York, the council is planning to plant a woodland of 50,000 trees to help the city reach its net zero target by 2030. But offsetting is a risky business and easily upskittled by the weather.
A study, published in the journal AGU Advances, used climate models to explore the impact of different climate change pathways on carbon uptake of forests in California. Under “business as usual”, the anticipated hotter, drier conditions, and increased risk of wildfire resulted in woodland carbon storage capacity dropping by one-sixth. A more intermediate climate change path produced a drop of about one-tenth. Worryingly, some of the most vulnerable locations, along coasts and on lower mountain slopes, are where there are forest carbon offset projects.
It’s easy to assume that California is an exception and more at risk from the impacts of climate change, but as the Canadian village of Lytton recently discovered, nowhere is immune from extreme weather.