New forests for better air in PMB

2009-06-11 00:00

A REAFFORESTATION project to create a carbon sink in Pietermaritzburg to reduce harmful atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide is planned to get off the ground this year.

“Pietermaritzburg would have the kudos of being only the second city in South Africa to establish a carbon sink,” said Andrew Whiteley of the Wildlands Conservation Trust at a presentation to the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Commerce Air Quality and Environment Forum meeting this week. “This would be a great image for a city that has a reputation for bad air pollution.”

Durban was the first South African city to start reaffforesting areas to create a carbon sink. The Pietermaritzburg project would involve various partners, including the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute (Midi) and the Msunduzi Municipality.

Although there are abundant commercial forest plantations around Pietermaritzburg, they do not create the conditions needed for a carbon sink.

“They are not going to stay in place,” said Whiteley, “and the harvesting process probably produces more carbon dioxide than is captured during the forest’s lifetime. Carbon sink projects have to be long term — at least 20 years — but the understanding is that a planted forest is always going to be there.”

Wildlands has three carbon sink projects under way in the province: on the Mkhuze River floodplain, the Ongoye Forest and the Buffelsdraai landfill site, where the Ethekweni Municipality has made 270 hectares available for afforestation.

In addition, the 23 projects involved in the Wildlands Indigenous Trees for Life Programme (ITLP) is currently planting 300 000 trees per year. The programme enourages “tree-preneurs” to collect seed and care for the resulting seedlings until they are ready to be sold. The growers benefit from a barter system that sees trees exchanged for goods.

There are two ITLP nodes in Pietermaritzburg, in Sweetwaters and Swapo, near Copesville, with 200 tree-preneurs. They would supply seeds for the creation of the city’s carbon sink. “We want to get seeds planted in spring this year,” said Whiteley, “and the first trees planted in 2010.”

Whiteley said the Pietermaritzburg carbon sink project would combine with the forest restoration project already under way in the Ferncliffe forest, which was undertaken as a partnership between the Christian conservation organisation, A Rocha, and the municipality.

Whiteley said that, whereas previous Wildlands carbon sink projects have been funded by big corporates, the Pietermaritzburg project would look for partnerships with local businesses.

Commenting on the project, Midi director Francois du Toit said he sees it as galvanising local business and as a job creator. “It only works if local business engages,” he added.

Msunduzi Municipality conservation manager Rodney Bartholomew said this project and similar initiatives raise the environmental profile of the city. “Our citizens and our politicians need to acknowledge these projects and their importance,” he said.

A carbon sink is a natural or artificially created reservoir that captures and stores carbon dioxide, thus removing it from the atmosphere where it plays a major role in air pollution and global warming. Forests are ideal carbon sinks.

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