Tree planting has become a worldwide cause. International calls to plant a trillion trees to combat climate change have led to multiple initiatives by countries around the world. Even the current U.S. administration, with support from businesses and nonprofits has promised to plant over 800 million trees across an estimated 2.8 million acres. Planting trees is widely seen to be a vital nature-based solution to climate change; a way of moderating its effects as the world works to reduce carbon emissions. However, recent studies have created some pushback from that view.
The new studies are not opposed to trees. What they have revealed is that allowing forests to grow back naturally is a better strategy than planting trees. The new data has shown that, among other things, estimates of the rate of carbon accumulation by natural forest regrowth have on average been 32% too low and, for tropical forests, have been 53% too low.
A new study published in Nature identified 1.67 billion acres that could be set aside to allow trees to regrow. It excludes land under cultivation or built on, along with various existing valuable ecosystems.
Natural regrowth allows nature to select which tree species take hold and turns out to happen quite rapidly and in a widespread manner. The great thing about natural restoration of forests is that it often requires nothing more than human inaction. Because it requires no policy initiatives, investments, or oversight, data on its extent is rather scarce. But the data we have reveals that wherever forests have been allowed to recover on their own, it appears to happen rapidly and with great success.
Photo, posted September 5, 2015, courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli via Flickr.