Study finds huge potential to grow trees, capture carbon emissions

DEA  ALBERT CEOLAN—De Agostini via Getty Images

DEA ALBERT CEOLAN—De Agostini via Getty Images

"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", Myles Allen, a geosystem science professor at Oxford, said according to the AFP news agency". In a new analysis out Thursday in the journal Science, scientists report restoring forests could cut atmospheric carbon by 25 percent.

In a first of its kind study, a team at ETH Zurich has calculated the potential area and impact of a new forest large enough to slash roughly two-thirds off the atmospheric carbon pool.

When the team excluded land already in use for urban and agricultural areas, they found there's 0.9 billion hectares of land available for planting forests.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that if the world wanted to limit the rise to 1.5C by 2050, an extra 1bn hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees would be needed.

Once these new trees reach maturity, they could store an estimated 205 billion tonnes of carbon - or about two thirds 300 billion tonnes human activity has driven into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

The researchers at the Crowther Lab analyzed thousands of satellite images to assess Earth's tree cover and potential to support additional forest areas under the current climate conditions.

"Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today and it provides hard evidence to justify investment. If we act now, this could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ... to levels last seen nearly a century ago".

The greatest po-tential can be found in just six countries: Russian Federation (151 million hectares); the U.S. (103 million hectares); Canada (78.4 million hectares); Australia (58 million hectares); Brazil (49.7 million hectares); and China (40.2 million hectares).

Data released from the US space agency NASA have shown that China led the way in greening on land, thanks to its ambitious tree-planting program and intensive agriculture.

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"However, it will take decades for new forests to mature and achieve this potential". However, this would be outweighed by losses in dense tropical forests, which typically have 90-100% tree cover.

The most effective way to fight global warming is to plant lots of trees, a study says.

Others are critical of the estimates of carbon that could be stored if these trees were planted.

Ms. Christiana Figueres, Founding Partner, Global Optimism and Former Executive Secretary, UN Climate Convention, also commented: "Finally an authoritative assessment of how much land we can and should cover with trees without impinging on food production or living areas. A hugely important blueprint for governments and private sector".

"If you convert that into carbon, that's about 200 gigatonnes of carbon", said ecologist Jean-Francois Bastin, who co-authored the new work, in an accompanying video. It also offers lists of forest restoration organizations.

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

The researchers used Google Earth and artificial intelligence to see what areas could support more trees, while leaving room for people and crops. Then they created a model that predicts Earth's potential forest capacity.

The Crowther Lab is a network of the next generation of leading global climate scientists, specializing in ecology. Its research is not only focused on understanding climate change but also on addressing climate change.

This story has been published on: 2019-07-04.

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