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Carbon Sequestration: Robin Hoods of the Forest?

Fortnightly Magazine - August 1997

resume near the project's end.

With the possibility of policy changes on the horizon, UtiliTree is holding off on developing any new projects, particularly outside the U.S. The international picture is "very uncertain right now," says Kinsman. "The organization is waiting to see how global policy falls out and how the U.S. responds before making any new moves."

Peaked Trees

Once a tree reaches peak maturity, its ability to absorb CO2 begins to decline. Eventually, CO2 absorption will fall to minimal levels, a figure that varies depending upon several factors. Pedery points out that it is unlikely a utility will shut down its plant when the forest sink that offsets CO2 emissions no longer can absorb additional quantities.

Environmentalists also fear that once a utility sets aside a piece of land for planting or management, it will forget about it, which can prove especially damaging for newly planted groves. Other unexpected factors can affect a carbon sink's success as well. "With forests, you're talking about at least a thirty-year period before they absorb their set about of carbon," Pedery explains, "And in that time, a lot can happen. It can be burned down; it can be cut down; it can be wiped out by a hurricane."

Pedery also debunked the value of planting new forests, which take several years to make a significant contribution in CO2 absorption. For the first 10 years or so, trees do not grow a great deal. After the first 10 to 20 years, however, rapid growth allows for a quick increase in carbon absorption. Older forests aging from 80 to 100 years absorb 2 to 3 times more CO2 than young trees. "What you do today is more important than what you do 30, 40, 50 years down the road," he says.

CO2 stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

Elizabeth Striano is managing editor of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY.


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