Forests are among the most important natural carbon sinks. Trees remove carbon from the air and store it in their trunks, branches, and leaves, and transfer part of it into the soil. But in some regions, these natural carbon sinks are starting to weaken due to deforestation, forest degradation, and the impacts of climate change. This problem has led some climate mitigation projects to focus on increasing the overall number of trees on the planet.
But, according to a paper recently published in the journal Science, “we can’t plant our way out of climate change.” That’s the simple message from Restoration Ecologist Karen Holl and University of São Paulo Professor Pedro Brancalion to anyone who thinks planting one trillion trees will reverse the effects of climate change. They say planting more trees is only one piece of the puzzle. Any initiatives like 1t.org or the Trillion Tree Campaign must be done carefully and be accompanied by commitments to long-term management.
Tree plantings can provide many environmental benefits, including improving water quality, biodiversity, and increasing shade. But trees can sometimes have undesirable impacts, such as harming native species and ecosystems or reducing water availability, depending on where and how the trees are planted.
The authors suggest four principles that should guide forest enhancement initiatives: reduce forest clearing and degradation, balance ecological and social goals, view tree plantings as one part of a multifaceted solution, and plan, coordinate and monitor the work.
While tree plantings can clearly be part of the solution, slowing the pace of climate change requires a comprehensive approach that must start with burning less fossil fuels.
Photo, posted December 1, 2019, courtesy of Akuppa John Wigham via Flickr.