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Climate scientists emphatic about replanting trees to tackle global temperature

Image credit: Dreamstime

New research confirms the merits of re-forestation to aid averting the global climate crisis.

One of the best tools we have available to us for carbon emission capture is replanting trees. A new analysis estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that are blown into the atmosphere by human activities.

This would not come easily, but researchers found that the great potential for replanting efforts does exist. Forests could be regrown on 1.7 billion-1.8 billion hectares of denuded areas that are no longer in use, adding 1.4 billion hectares if cropland and urban areas were included.

Vast potential exists in Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China. More than half the global potential to restore trees could be found there.

Change in Brazil's tree cover

Image credit: Ben Heubl, GFW

To challenge man-made emissions at their current pace, replanting trees on destroyed forest areas the "size of the United States" would be necessary in order to keep climate change in check, according to the analysis.

Planting trees is not only one of the most effective solutions for absorbing and storing greenhouse gas emissions detrimental to the current climate; the costs would also trump the alternatives. "This one is not only our most powerful solution, it's one that every single one of us can get involved with," explained Tom Crowther, a professor at the Crowther Lab, a research group based at ETH Zurich.

Crowther said that the best first location to start reforestation efforts is in the tropics because of the fast rate at which trees grow there, adding "but replanting land can be done in most countries and even at home".

Tropics on a map

Image credit: Beck, H.E., Zimmermann, N. E., McVicar, T. R., Vergopolan, N., Berg, A., & Wood, E. F

The intertropical zone, highlighted in purple, surrounds the equator. It lost 12 million hectares of forest cover in 2018 alone. This represents the fourth-highest annual loss since records began in 2001, according to monitoring service Global Forest Watch - much of it attributable to fires, land-clearing for farming, and mining.

The effects of the reforestation efforts are not sudden and current climate change efforts have to be sustained, experts stress. Crowther told journalists that it remained vital to reverse the current trends of rising greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and forest destruction in order to stop the climate crisis becoming even worse. It would also matter because the forest restoration would require 50-100 years to bear fruit in removing 200bn tonnes of carbon.

Brazil, which has suffered monumental tree cover loss in recent years, gained some tree cover in the south but little in the north-west, where it lost a lot of tree cover, especially in 2016 and 2017, as figures by GFW shows (pink is tree cover loss; purple is tree-cover gain).

The US territory appears more balanced and presents a distinctive purple area in the south.  

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