Exploring the potential of tree planting

Human-induced climate change often has us wishing for a single cure. Perhaps we have Marvel to blame for our need for a hero in this story, but the reality is that it takes all of us and all of our ideas combined to bring that needle back from the red.

The ideas we like the most often seem to be the obvious and the natural – the ideas that smile back at us, point towards the earth, and reassure us that the answer was staring us in the face this whole time. Carbon sequestration through photosynthesis, i.e. tree planting, remains the most attractive ideas. 

The beauty in tree sequestration lies in its simplicity, biodiversity co-benefits and its reliance on natural processes to drive it. The recent 'Global tree restoration potential report by leading authority ETH in Zürich found that there is enough suitable land available globally to increase the world’s forest cover by a third without affecting existing cities or agriculture and that planting this with trees would go a long way towards nullifying global carbon emissions. It also identified Australia as one of six countries with the greatest potential to reforest, with 58 million hectares available. “Countries like Australia have so much potential because they’ve already removed much of their existing forests”, according to the report’s lead author Jean-Francois Bastin at ETH.

Farmland during the day
Tim chose the Fleurieu Peninsula for its rich soils and more predictable rainfall

The Forktree Project is one such manifestation of the realisation that healthy trees (and consequently, healthy soils) should remain a fundamental player in our efforts to curb the effects of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Started by Kathmandu’s Global Ambassador, Tim Jarvis, the Forktree Project aims to show those who will listen that reforesting unused land across Australia and elsewhere could have a significant impact on global warming.

Situated on the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, Tim’s 53 hectares of land is hoped to one day be an example of how native reforestation can be used on scale for mass carbon sequestration.

“I was looking for somewhere that was in need of some TLC, in an area that I felt had rainfall and the soils that would support high density native forest, like what would have been there originally,” says Tim. “In other words, it’s a valuable habitat which is why it has traditionally been cleared for farming.”

Already on his way to planting between 30,000-40,000 trees on his property, Tim hopes to use this project as a future educational resource for schools, governments, and business.

“The plan is to develop an interpretative centre and also a large seed nursery – all feeding into making the place an educational resource. I’m also looking at the way in which carbon offsets from trees are calculated and how we can improve the system of funding for tree planting for landowners.”

Farmland and a small pond in the foreground

It’s this calculation that plays an important part of Tim’s plans to help governments and farmers better utilise the current Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) - a government initiative to compensate farmers for either restoring damaged habitats or protecting existing native habitats on their land.

“In its current form, funding for farmers under the CFI is very hard to access, unless you are working on a massive scale. Basically, you need scale to derive enough income from carbon offsets to pay for the CFI’s audit costs and to be able to hire a broker, and you need a broker to help you navigate the complexities of the system. This makes it unworkable for most.

“It’s fine for someone like me who is dedicating their land to reforestation and to mitigate biodiversity loss because it’s a cause they believe in. For those who use their land for farming and other income streams, there needs to be a practical incentive for reforesting unused areas on that land”.

As far as helping to lighten the weight of bureaucracy within the current CFI, Tim says we can utilise the tools we already have on hand to both monitor our progress and remove the red tape.

“We could use satellite imagery to show us what tree cover someone has on their land and by definition how much carbon they’re sequestering. Remote sensing by satellite is very accurate, and we have just about the best satellite imagery system for natural resource management in the world here in Australia and we don’t use it for this key application - measuring how much carbon is sequestered by trees. This system arguably would be as accurate as the current labour-intensive and costly system.”

Tim Jarvis standing on his farm
The Forktree Projects aims to plant 30,000-40,000 trees on the one property

With the average tree sequestering roughly a tonne of carbon dioxide over its lifetime, Tim’s eventual 30-40,000-odd trees present the opportunity to sequester a similar tonnage of carbon dioxide. Calculating the possible scale and potential for carbon sequestration through native reforestation is therefore perfectly achievable.

“In time my planting will become a natural order,” Tim explains. “Things that thrive well will multiply and self-seed. You’re just trying to help nature, essentially.”


Learn more at www.theforktreeproject.com, explore Kathmandu's sustainability initiatives here, or share this story below...

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