Human action can degrade land and at times the land can restore itself. Occasionally, trees need to be replanted. In short, this is called reforestation. As a result, reforestation is seen as a way to combat climate change1. However, we must ensure that we don’t rely solely on trees as a silver bullet method to completely eradicate global warming.
What do trees do for the climate?
Climate change is a big threat right now and for the future. However, 950 million hectares (ha) of new forests could help limit the rise in global average temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 20502 , says the IPCC.
As shown from the statistic, trees can help combat climate change because trees absorb carbon dioxide. On average a single tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year3. As a result, planting more trees can restore the natural balance of carbon in the atmosphere4, but only if we plant the right trees. As well as this, farmlands are often created from clearing forests. Therefore, clear-cutting forests creates more run-off and soil erosion5. In other words, this degrades the land, which makes it hard for the land to restore itself on its own. This is why replanting trees is vital.
Reforestation projects around the world
Firstly, a study suggests that Earth’s ecosystems could support 25% more forested areas than we have now6. Reforestation projects set out to achieve this. Notably, the ‘Bonn Challenge’ is an apt example. Through a global effort they plan to bring 350 million hectares (ha) of degraded land into restoration by 20307. Furthermore, it is best to plant trees in the tropics and subtropics, as the trees grow quickly. Hence, Brazil have planned to restore 19 million hectares (mha) of land8. In contrast to that, increased tree cover in the Northern Hemisphere will absorb more heat, which would have an adverse effect.
On the other hand, regional replanting projects are also an option to contribute to combating global climate change. The ARRI project in eastern United States aims to restore forests on mined land. For instance, they have planted 70 million trees since 20049.
Is reforestation an effective strategy to combat climate change?
The drawbacks to planting trees is that it needs time, money and resources. A decrease in farmland may compromise food production. Furthermore, it is crucial to avoid areas of monoculture as this leads to soil degradation, which will not help restore the land. Moreover, a senior scientist states that planting trees can not replace the need to decrease fossil fuel usage10. Replanting trees needs to go on alongside other actions that combat climate change. For example, more land rights to indigenous people can reduce the size of forest that can be made into farmland.
- Conservation International (2019). What on Earth is ‘reforestation’?
- IPCC (2018). An IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.
- Deziel, C (2018). Environmental Problems Caused by Deforestation of Tropical Rain Forests, Sciencing.
- Gellert, A (2017). How does deforestation affect the weather? Sciencing.
- Whitmer, P (2019). Negative effects of clear-cutting. Sciencing.
- Bastin, J-F et al (2019). The global tree restoration potential, Science. Vol 365, issue 6448.
- Radhika, D et al (2019) Second Bonn Challenge progress report : application of the Barometer in 2018, IUCN.
- Lewis, S.L et al (2019). Restoring natural forests is the best way to remove atmospheric carbon, nature 568. 25-28.
- Angel, P et al (2017). The Appalachian regional reforestation initiative.
- Buis, A (2019). Examining the viability of planting trees to help mitigate climate change, NASA.