Billions of Trees are Needed to Counter Effects of Climate Change

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

It says that global planting of nearly a trillion trees planted in over 1 billion hectares of land could remove two-thirds of the 300 gigatons of carbon humans have added to the atmosphere since the 1800s.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating.

The study says reforesting this amount of land would remove roughly two thirds of human-made carbon emissions from the atmosphere, more than any other single climate solution has proposed to handle. Lead author Jean-Francois Bastin estimated there is space for at least 1 trillion more trees, but it could be 1.5 trillion. The researchers found that enough non-crop-yielding and non-urbanized land is available for such an effort, though it would mean repurposing some areas now being used for grazing sheep and cattle. Losses in dense tropical forests, which typically have 90 to 100 percent tree cover, would outweigh those gains.

And he said they weren't even counting urban or agricultural land in their assessment. "What blows my mind is the scale", he said.

Restoration of forests has always been seen as a potential measure to combat climate change.

These new forests, once mature, could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon, the researchers calculated. "It is vitally important that we protect the forests that exist today, pursue other climate solutions, and continue to phase out fossil fuels from our economies in order to avoid risky climate change". Individuals could make a tangible impact by growing trees themselves, donating to forest restoration organisations and avoiding irresponsible companies, he added. The potential for removing the most carbon is in the tropics. A trillion of them, maybe more.

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The study, by researchers with the Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich university, has been published in the journal Science. A new study, however, calculates just how many trees could be planted in a worldwide reforestation effort and how it would impact climate change if implemented correctly. That means we could restore the 1tn trees for $300bn [£240bn], though obviously that means vast efficiency and effectiveness.

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.

Planting trees is not a substitute for weaning the world off burning oil, coal and gas, the chief cause of global warming, Crowther emphasized. The greatest potential can be found in just six countries: Russian Federation (151 million hectares); the United States (103 million hectares); Canada (78.4 million hectares); Australia (58 million hectares); Brazil (49.7 million hectares); and China (40.2 million hectares). According to a new study, although humans have massively expanded their reach across the planet, there is still enough room to accommodate 0.9 billion hectares of forest.

But the study shows that many of these countries have committed to restore less than half the area that could support new forests. "Personally, Brazil would be my dream hotspot to get it right - that would be spectacular".

People walk in Tree Library park in Milan, Italy. Artificial intelligence computing then combined this data with 10 key soil, topography and climate factors to create a global map of where trees could grow.

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