The Welsh deputy climate change minister accused farmers of “scapegoating” tree-planting projects this morning.

Lee Waters MS made the comments on BBC’s Politics Wales, after being questioned on the issue of multinational corporations buying up swathes of Welsh farmland for carbon offsetting schemes.

“I understand that farmers are under a lot of pressure from multiple points - but some are treating tree-planting as a pantomime boogeyman,” he said.

“It’s a convenient scapegoat for a whole range of other things they’re concerned about.

“It needn’t be that.

“All we’re saying really, is for each farmer to plant half a hectare on their land of mixed woodlands - some for biodiversity, some for cropping to produce Welsh houses - and that can be done alongside what they already do, and it would generate a new income for them.

READ MORE: Powys farmer's £15,000 fine for planting trees on own land

“So I don’t think there’s anything to be feared here. Properly done, working with the communities, we think this can be a good thing for Wales.”

Waters was accused of “dodging the question” by Abi Reader, chair of the Dairy Board at the Welsh National Farmers’ Union.

The National Wales: NFU Cymru's Abi Reader said that companies should focus on reducing, not offseting, their carbon emissions.NFU Cymru's Abi Reader said that companies should focus on reducing, not offseting, their carbon emissions.

“I think we’ve slightly dodged the question a bit here, haven’t we,” she said, reacting to the minister’s comments.

“Half a hectare for farmers to be able to plant trees is one aspect - but again, the issue is these large corporations that are coming in and buying up whole farms.

“I think we can agree with Lee Waters, in that farmers are keen to plant trees - at NFU Cymru we believe that, as long as you can get the right tree in the right place on farms, they can have a benefit to us and they can benefit society.

“But again, it’s about being very conscious that we may be exporting our carbon benefits that we’ve got here in Wales to larger companies.”

READ MORE: Tree planting to offset carbon is forcing out Welsh farmers

Carbon offsetting refers to the idea that a business’s carbon emissions can be compensated for by planting trees, which, when mature, will begin removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The practice has been criticised as “greenwashing” by environmental groups, who say that it allows large, heavy-polluting companies to continue emitting carbon while claiming to be tackling the climate crisis.

A 2021 article by Greenpeace said: “Offsetting has become the most popular and sophisticated form of greenwash around. 

“The idea is deceptively simple: instead of cutting your own carbon emissions, you pay someone else to cut theirs or somehow capture yours.

The National Wales: Deputy climate minister Lee Waters accused some Welsh farmers of "scapegoating" tree-planting projects. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Deputy climate minister Lee Waters accused some Welsh farmers of "scapegoating" tree-planting projects. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

“In practice, though, offsetting is riddled with flaws.”

Here in Wales, the Welsh Government has come under fire from both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives over allegations that its Glastir Woodland Creation scheme, which offers funding for tree-planting, has been paying grants to large private companies who then convert Welsh farms into carbon offset forests.

Voice.Wales recently reported on one such grant recipient, £8.1billion private equity firm Foresight Group.

American investment management company Blackrock, which has been repeatedly accused of greenwashing its $85billion in coal industry holdings, is a Foresight Group investor.

“As any responsible business, we should be looking to reduce our carbon emissions moreso than offsetting,” Abi Reader said this morning.

“We’ll see these companies coming in, they will be taking taxpayers’ money in terms of any subsidies they might receive from that land - that [money] will be leaving Wales.

“They will be receiving taxpayers’ subsidies in order to plant trees on this land, and then at a later date they will be taking a cash crop from that land, and again, it will be leaving Wales.

“A lot of this land is so important for food production, and is so important for underpinning our rural communities.

“We should be able to feed our country with a high-quality protein that we can produce here.”

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