The best way to tackle the climate crisis is by planting billions of trees around the world, according to a new scientific report.
The researchers have calculated this would be possible without encroaching on any crop lands or urban areas.
The driving force behind the gradual warming of the Earth is the rise of carbon dioxide emissions. Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, however the rising carbon dioxide levels combined with devastating levels of deforestation has left a significant imbalance in our environment.
New research, published in the journal Science, suggests a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all emissions released into the atmosphere by human activities, which scientists describe as ‘mind-blowing’, The Guardian reports.
The research revealed there are 1.7 billion hectares of land, currently treeless, on which 1.2 trillion native tree saplings would naturally grow. The area of land is the equivalent size of the USA and China combined, totalling around 11 per cent of all land on Earth.
Scientists excluded all fields used to grow crops, as well as urban areas, from their research, but did include grazing land as trees could benefit sheep and cattle, they suggest.
Professor Tom Crowther, from the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who led the research, said:
This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one.
What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.
The team emphasised how vital it is to reverse the current trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions – such as from fossil fuel burning and deforestation – and bring the levels down to zero.
According to Professor Crowther, this is necessary to stop the climate crisis becoming even worse, and suggested the forest restoration proposal would take 50 to 100 years to achieve the full effect of removing 200 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.
Crowther said tree planting is ‘a climate change solution that doesn’t require President Trump to immediately start believing in climate change, or scientists to come up with technological solutions to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.’
It is available now, it is the cheapest one possible and every one of us can get involved.
Other scientists agreed, saying carbon needs to be removed from the atmosphere to avoid dangerous climate impacts, and technological solutions will not work on scale that is required.. Jean-François Bastin, also from ETH Zürich, said: ‘Governments must now factor [tree restoration] into their national strategies.’
While Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief and founder of the Global Optimism group, said:
Finally we have an authoritative assessment of how much land we can and should cover with trees without impinging on food production or living areas. This is hugely important blueprint for governments and private sector.
René Castro, assistant-director general at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, added:
We now have definitive evidence of the potential land area for re-growing forests, where they could exist and how much carbon they could store.
Crowther suggested they could plant one trillion trees for around $300 billion (£240 billion), which is ‘by far the cheapest solution that has ever been proposed’, and that, in terms of tree restoration, ‘the potential is literally everywhere – the entire globe.’ Russia, Canada, China, the US, Brazil and Australia – the world’s six biggest countries – contain half of all potential restoration sites.
Let’s get planting.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.