Tree planting does work: The increasing importance of reforestation and forest protection to combat the climate crisis.
Climate change is an existential threat that looms over our planet. Amid technological advancements and policy debates, an age-old solution has resurfaced with great promise: planting trees – because tree planting does work. The potential of planting billions of trees can no longer be ignored as a cost-effective solution to climate change.
Tree planting does work and is arguably one of the simplest and most economical ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide emissions, becoming our natural allies in the fight against global warming. A worldwide planting program could eliminate about one-third of all emissions resulting from human activities.
With 1.7 billion hectares of treeless land that could support 1.2 trillion native tree saplings without interfering with urban or cropland, the potential is monumental. The equivalent size of this area is the combined total of the US and China.
Recent research has quantitatively evaluated that tree planting does work as a top solution for climate change. The appropriate area for tree planting is massive, with tropical regions supporting full tree cover and other areas having sparse coverage. Tree restoration might take 50-100 years, but tree planting does work, and it could remove a staggering 200 billion tonnes of carbon.
Unlike some complex technological solutions, tree planting does work, is affordable, and is available now. Effective restoration can be accomplished at around 30 US cents a tree, totalling $300 billion for one trillion trees. Financial incentives to landowners are considered a practical way to reach tree-planting goals.
The potential for tree planting spans the globe, with the largest nations housing half of the potential restoration sites. Existing initiatives, like The Bonn Challenge, a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030, aim to restore forest land. The research utilizes high-resolution satellite images and AI to create a global map of where trees could flourish.
The enthusiasm for tree planting must be tempered with caution. Researchers have expressed concerns about over-estimating the speed with which forests can sequester carbon. Different types of forests sequester carbon at different rates, and a forest’s age also affects how much it can extract from the air. Monoculture plantation forests must be avoided to protect biodiversity, and the rights and wishes of local and indigenous people must be respected.
Furthermore, agroforestry, planting trees alongside crops, and including hedgerows have not been considered in the restoration potential. These factors add layers of complexity to the implementation.
The fact that older, more mature forests sequester more carbon than newly planted forests cannot be overstated. Intact old-growth forests regulate the temperature in an area, increase water availability and provide significant biodiversity for a region. It costs far less to sequester a ton of CO2 in an old-growth forest compared to a newly planted forest. Therefore economics alone would dictate it makes sense to do everything we can to protect them.
Approximately two-thirds of all land could support forest; 5.5 billion hectares already have trees. Earlier research estimates about 3 trillion trees worldwide, half of what existed before human civilization, with a net loss of 10 billion trees annually. Advanced tools are now available for identifying areas for restoration and native tree species. Artificial intelligence and machine learning combined with satellite imagery, climate data, aerial drone surveys and even aerial drone tree planting can help assess where to plant trees, what species to plant and which areas are most at risk.
Tree planting does work, and the prospect of planting billions of trees as an affordable and globally applicable solution to climate change is not just a hopeful thought but a tangible reality. This post has highlighted the quantitative evaluation of tree planting’s impact, the feasibility of funding, potential sites, existing initiatives, and various considerations in implementation.
The global climate crisis requires a multifaceted approach. A well-planned tree-planting initiative that involves governments, private sectors, scientists, and individuals can be a significant step toward a greener future. Careful planning and respect for ecological diversity and human rights must guide our actions as we embrace this ancient solution with renewed urgency. Tree planting does work, and it is more than just a symbolic gesture; it’s a practical strategy that can make a tangible difference in the fight against climate change.