Scientists urge climate protesters to save planet by planting trees

Pat Wise
July 8, 2019

Planting extra trees could furthermore withhold biodiversity, scientists recount.

The study, published in the journal Science, analysed the maximum amount of carbon that could be captured if all available degraded forest areas were replanted and allowed to mature. Approximately two-thirds of the 300 billion tons of carbon, which arrived since the industrial Revolution by the people in the atmosphere.

A female adult jaguar sits atop a tree at the Mamiraua Sustainable Constructing Reserve in Uarini, Amazonas negate, Brazil.

"We all knew restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we had no scientific understanding of what impact this could make", study senior author Thomas Crowther, an assistant professor of ecology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH Zurich), said in a statement. "But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage".

"Restoration of trees may be "among the most effective strategies", but it is very far indeed from 'the best climate change solution available, ' and a long way behind reducing fossil fuel emissions to net zero", said Prof Myles Allen from the University of Oxford. Six countries, in fact, hold more than half of the world's area for potential tree restoration (in this order): Russian Federation, the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and China. (One hectare is about twice the size of a football field.) Not only is that "undoubtedly achievable", according to the study's authors, but global tree restoration is "our most effective climate change solution to date".

A worker plants seedlings for reforestation at Huayquecha Biological Station near Paucartambo, Cusco. The team said their study evaluated the United Nations claim for the first time, showing where the trees could be restored and how much carbon they could capture.

Planting trees is not a substitute for weaning the world off burning oil, coal and gas, the chief cause of global warming, Crowther emphasised.

Crowther added, however, that while this was a cheap solution, it would not work without emissions cuts.

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Nor is it easy or realistic to think the world will suddenly go on a tree-planting binge, although many groups have started, Crowther said.

"It's certainly a monumental challenge, which is exactly the scale of the problem of climate change", Crowther said.

As Earth warms, and especially as the tropics dry, tree cover is being lost, he noted.

This is the first study to link direct tree measurements to environmental characteristics to provide quantitative, spatially explicit global estimates of potential tree cover. The results show an area of the world roughly equivalent to Russia, Canada, the United States and Australia - or almost a third of all land area in the world - is covered in forest. They then used artificial intelligence computing to combine that data with 10 key soil, topography and climate factors to create a global map of where trees could grow.

"This is lovely thing, just to think that to fight climate change what you have to do is to plant trees and you can do that everywhere", Bastin said. That's on top of the three trillion trees now on Earth, in response to earlier Crowther research.

As for the potential cost of these new forests, it's not cheap, but it's also much, much more affordable than most other actions with the potential to have a big impact on climate change.

There are skeptics quoted in the Guardian who say that these calculations are not accurate, and of course we are actually losing forest to grazing and monoculture farming.

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