You are correct to say that “planting trees alone will not stop global warming” (editorial, December 28). Competitive “anything you can plant we can plant better” promises by the Conservative and Labour parties in the recent UK election bear the implication that food will be imported, probably in part from deforested tropical fields.
We do certainly need trees, but the first action is to stop deforestation, not only in Amazonia and Borneo but also in Africa, where some of the world’s most rapid deforestation is taking place in countries such as Zambia. This is where Britain in particular, with its very large overseas aid budget, can make a real difference.
African deforestation is best addressed by removing demand, especially by rural electrification, taking away the use of wood for cooking and light. Solar power and batteries are becoming accessible even to poor folk in remote villages, and the spread of cell phones and TV is creating surging demand for electricity. If cutting stops, tropical dry forests regenerate quickly by themselves, sequestering carbon rapidly. By helping schools and women’s education, electrification also slows population growth, the greatest factor driving rising greenhouse gas emission.
There is an immediate need. This is to free South Africa from its catastrophic coal dependence inherited from apartheid and exacerbated by corruption. South Africa is one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, ranking above the UK, France and Italy.
The reforming administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa is reeling from a bankrupt electricity monopoly, with endless power cuts, and debts that threaten the nation. The impact is regional, with power cuts as far away as Zambia. Yet South Africa has huge solar and wind power resources, and good topography for pumped water energy storage.
One of the most cost-effective ways to cut global greenhouse gas emissions would be a large loan to South Africa to permit a rapid shift from coal to decentralised and job-creating solar and wind generation. By its generous loan the UK helped save Ireland a decade ago; South Africa is equally deserving.
With long-term support for African solar electrification to regrow tropical dry forest, and immediate help by facilitating an end to South Africa’s coal industry (incidentally saving the brave but struggling Ramaphosa government), Britain would help the global climate far more than by covering the green and pleasant fields of England with serried ranks of pine trees.
E G Nisbet
Egham, Surrey, UK