Could Planting Tons of Trees Solve Climate Change?

Best way to fight climate change? Plant a trillion trees

Planting trees alone isn't enough to beat the climate crisis, of course. "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".

But they warned that the need for action is urgent, since a warming climate was already reducing the amount of land that can support new forests. Even with existing cities and farmland, there's enough space for new trees to cover 9 million square kilometres, they reported in yesterday's journal Science. Such newly planted trees could cut carbon (a part of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere by almost 25%, bringing it down to levels not seen for almost 100 years, the scientists said.

"This is by far - by thousands of times - the cheapest climate change solution" and the most effective, said study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

The team's calculation "shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today", Crowther added.

Once these trees matured they could pull down around 200 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, some two-thirds of extra carbon from human activities put into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. This means that there is now an area of the size of the U.S. available for tree restoration.

The report noted that the countries with the most room for the trees are Russia, Canada, the United States, Australia, Brazil, and China. Unlike simply covering the entire United States in trees, however, the 0.9 billion hectares the scientists identified only includes areas where native trees would grow naturally - the idea here is to restore and grow forests, rather than just planting a bunch of trees and hoping for the best.

"The question of whether it is actually feasible to restore this much forest is much more hard", Field said in an email.

However, not everyone was as effusive about the new study.

He also clarified that planting trees alone can not fix climate change.

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"This one is not only our most powerful solution - it's one that every single one of us can get involved with", he said. But a proposal that costs a tenth as much as carbon capture and geoengineering has to be given serious consideration.

This "large-scale depopulation" resulted in vast tracts of agricultural land being left untended, researchers say, allowing the land to become overgrown with trees and other new vegetation.

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".

Will Baldwin-Cantello, Global lead on Forests at WWF, said: "Our forests are the world's biggest natural ally in the fight against climate change but without them, we will lose the fight to keep global warming below 1.5 C. That's why it's crucial that we act to restore forests whilst drastically cutting our global carbon emissions". It also offers lists of for-est restoration organisations.

The scientists from ETH-Zurich in Switzerland used a method called photo-interpretation to examine a global dataset of observations covering 78,000 forests.

New findings published this week in Science show just how important a role they could play in climate mitigation efforts by calculating "Earth's tree carrying capacity".

It turns out that while the boreal forest would likely fare OK, tree cover is likely to decline in the tropics as the climate warms.

Crowther said about 40 percent of countries worldwide had proposed to restore an area "vastly under" what was possible, while 10 percent were aiming to add more trees than they could support.

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