Shell promises to plant some trees

Shell promises to plant some trees

Shell UK said today (10.10.2019) it would offset some of the emissions of its UK vehicle fuel customers by tree planting.

20% of its UK customers are members of its loyalty scheme and these people will be automatically enrolled in the offsetting programme. Very roughly, that means Shell is seeking to counterbalance about 3.5 million tonnes of CO2, or somewhat under 1% of UK domestic emissions.

It mentions that this offsetting will partly be carried out by investing in two British forestry schemes. These are

 Overkirkhope in the Scottish Borders

Longwood in Cumbria

 Shell’s announcement may have mislead readers. In fact, no new trees will be planted in these woodlands as a result of the investment. The projects are already in existence and Shell has bought a small fraction of what are called ‘carbon credits’ that are created after the trees are planted. And the numbers are truly insignificant, even if you believe that carbon offsetting works.


Longwood is fully planted. It was completed in 2008. Details are here.

As it is already in existence, and there appear to be no plans to extend it within the UK Woodland Carbon Code, no new trees will be planted as a result of Shell’s involvement.

It is a small scheme, of about 10-12 hectares, and will have anyway have insignificant effects on emissions. (To give a sense of scale, UK net reforestation is currently running at about 10,000 hectares a year, with a target of over 20,000 hectares).

 Shell has purchased credits of just over 100 tonnes of carbon at this site.


This is a larger scheme of about 100 hectares. But this still represents a infinitesimal fraction of Shell’s emissions.

The larger problem is that this project is sponsored by another fuel industry company. Allstar, the operator of a credit card that companies provide their employed drivers, already claims this scheme as part of its offsetting efforts and it owns the majority of the carbon credits.

Today, Shell owns 523 tonnes of CO2 offset from this project. This is less than 1% of the total that has been generated by Overkirkhope.

Net effect 

Shell has purchased about 700 tonnes of emissions credits from these two projects. This is about 0.02% of its yearly UK fuel emissions total, or far less than the CO2 it has been responsible for since the press release was sent out yesterday afternoon. I was unable to find a typical price for a tonne of forestry emissions credits but at today’s costs in the EU emissions trading scheme Shell would have paid just £14,000.

No new trees will be planted as a result of Shell’s involvement, although the company did also announce a partnership with the Scottish government to plant trees in the future. It projects a planting rate of 200,000 trees a year. That will cover about 100 hectares. To give a sense of scale, Ethopia planted 350 million trees in a single day earlier this year.

I find it very difficult to understand why large oil companies, with their near-infinite resources, cannot even do their greenwashing intelligently.

What Shell should have done is announce a significant land purchase on which it would plant millions of trees over the next years. Very roughly, to offset the 20% of its sales going to its loyalty card customers, it should have committed to perhaps 30,000 hectares of new forest a year. The UK is the least forested large country in Europe and it urgently needs new woodlands if is going to get to net zero. Shell could be an active participant in the efforts to decarbonise, instead of engaging in entirely insignificant hand waving.