By Emmanuelle Tzeng CNA, with staff writer
Planting trees is rapidly becoming the environmental statement of choice for the government and private companies to demonstrate their commitment to environmental issues, but environmentalists are skeptical about the benefits.
Environmental activists say the potential of such projects is limited and indicative of the tendency “not to see the forest for the trees.”
One example is Dragon Steel Corp’s expansion of its Taichung County factory, a project that received conditional approval in early June.
To gain approval, the company promised to plant trees and cut emissions, but an executive at the steel maker conceded that the added trees would have a limited impact.
S.T. Hsu, general manager of Dragon Steel’s industry safety, hygiene and environmental protection department, said in a telephone interview that the company had planted 20 hectares of trees and was trying to upgrade equipment to improve energy efficiency.
Hsu said, however, that planting trees was more about creating a green image than reducing the firm’s carbon footprint.
“It is true that the quantity of carbon dioxide emissions that can be reduced is very limited. The main purpose [of planting trees] is, after all, to enhance our public image,” he said.
But 20 hectares of trees can absorb a maximum of 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the combined 11.72 million tonnes that Dragon Steel’s new and old factories are expected to emit.
At the national level, the government has vowed to reduce emissions by planting 60,000 hectares of trees over eight years.
The Council of Agriculture is reviewing a draft plan of the forestation project before sending it to the Executive Yuan for approval.
The council estimates that approximately 1,500 trees will be planted per hectare, representing a total of 90 million trees.
A full-grown tree can absorb 5kg to 10kg of carbon dioxide per year, depending on the species. The millions of trees to be planted could only absorb around 900,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year when full-grown — just 0.32 percent of the country’s 278 million tonnes emitted last year.
Environmentalists say such numbers show that planting trees is an ineffective tool to battle emissions.
“Planting trees is a good thing in itself, but it has only a limited impact on reducing carbon dioxide,” said Pan Han-chiang (潘翰疆), secretary-general of the Taiwan Environmental Action Network.
Pan said that if the forestation plan is not approached with expert planning, it could even have disastrous ecological effects.
Shueh Shu-wen (薛淑文), executive secretary of Mercy on the Earth, which is leading a campaign to save old trees in Kaohsiung City, said that planting trees offered greener surroundings, but was not a viable strategy to grapple with the nation’s daunting emissions problem.
“As Taiwan does not have much land for forestation, it is more practical to control carbon dioxide emissions at the source,” she said, urging the government to be stricter when reviewing large construction plans.
Green Party Taiwan Secretary-General Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) agreed with Shueh, adding that the government and the private sector focused on offsetting carbon dioxide that has already been emitted rather than finding solutions to curb emissions.
Taiwan Environmental Protection Union president Gloria Hsu (徐光蓉) said in a report that forestation could absorb carbon dioxide, but that the best solution was to promote energy conservation, improve energy efficiency and take advantage of biofuel crops.
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