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Trees in Greenwich Park

Republicans back climate plan with no emissions cuts

Image credit: Dreamstime

Republican lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have proposed climate legislation which focuses on carbon capture and storage whilst also preserving the fossil fuel industry.

The Republican proposals include planting a trillion trees by 2050 in order to capture and store carbon dioxide. This would require more than three billion trees to be planted every year for the next 30 years.

“Our part at home is a lot more than just planting trees. It’s utilising the full abilities of sustainable forestry,” said Representative Bruce Westerman, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, who introduced the tree-planting bill.

Additional bills are expected in the coming weeks, including supporting the expansion of tax credits for carbon capture technology (capturing carbon from power plants and from the air); the establishment of a research hub to advance carbon capture technologies, and boosting “clean energy” options, such as natural gas.

The House Republican Leader, Kevin McCarthy, told reporters that this approach is an alternative to the “command-and-control” policies supported by many Democrats.

Notably, the proposals do not mention reducing fossil fuel consumption, such as introduction of a carbon tax or setting decarbonisation targets. The US is the world’s largest oil and gas producer and there is a perception that a serious decarbonisation drive could harm its economy and impact workers.

Prominent Democrats have supported much more ambitious climate action, such as the ‘Green New Deal’ proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other lawmakers. These plans propose massive investments to transform the US economy and infrastructure in an urgent decarbonisation drive, including reskilling workers in the fossil fuel sector. Democrats have argued that focusing on carbon capture and storage while neglecting to slash carbon emissions is counterproductive.

Despite their shortcomings, the proposals may be welcomed by environmentally conscious lawmakers and campaigners as an indication that climate change is considered an urgent matter so widely that all mainstream parties support any action to mitigate it. Even President Donald Trump – who previously claimed that climate change is a Chinese hoax and controversially withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement – expressed support for mass tree-planting while addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

Also speaking in Davos last month, influential climate activist Greta Thunberg said that: “Planting trees is good, of course, but it is nowhere near enough of what is needed and it cannot replace real mitigation and rewilding nature.”

Tree planting has gained traction in recent months as a non-divisive and affordable means of capturing some carbon from the atmosphere. In July 2019, Ethiopia set a world record by planting more than 350 million trees in the space of 12 hours, as part of a wider environmental campaign.

In the December 2019 UK general election, all major national and regional parties supported mass tree planting regardless of their stance on other forms of climate mitigation.

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