A Swiss team of researchers found that in order to meet the climate target of 1.5 degrees, we have to do one thing above all: plant trees. According to your calculations, new forests could bind two thirds of our CO2 emissions.
By planting trees, we can bind CO2 – that’s nothing new. (ETH) Zurich, however, trees can counteract climate change more effectively than previously thought.
Because: On earth there would be space for a third of the current forest area. Cities or agricultural areas would not be affected by this, the researchers wrote in the scientific journal Science. That would be an additional 900 million hectares of forest and would correspond to an area the size of the USA.
Trees could bind 205 gigatons of carbon
According to the report, these trees would be able to absorb 205 gigatons of carbon – this corresponds to about two thirds of the climate-damaging carbon emissions that humans have caused in the past 250 years.
In their report, the researchers also explain exactly where the trees can be planted: These are areas that “would naturally be suitable for forests and forest areas.” These include, above all, ecosystems that humans have destroyed in the past Has.
There are many such areas, especially in Russia. But the researchers also want to create new forests on a large scale in the USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China. It can also be used to calculate how many trees are planted for each region and how much carbon they could bind.
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1.5 degree target "undoubtedly achievable"
Due to the afforestation, the 1.5 degree target of the IPCC is “undoubtedly attainable”, the study says. In addition, however, further CO2 emissions have to be limited, for example in energy generation and transport.
"We all knew that restoring forests could play a role in combating climate change, but we didn’t really know what the impact would be," ETH Zurich. "Our study clearly shows that restoring forests is currently the best solution to climate change."
Possible planting areas shrink
"We would have to act quickly, however, because it will take decades for the forests to mature and to exploit their potential as natural CO2 stores," says study leader Tom Crowther. Because it takes a few years for a tree to store large amounts of CO2. In addition, the areas where new forests could be planted were getting smaller every year. There are several reasons for this: First, climate change is drying up more and more areas. On the other hand, people are sealing more and more areas, e.g. to build new living spaces.
At the same time, the study doubts calculations that assume that tree cover would grow due to climate change. This is only the case in northern forests, such as Siberia – these areas are only 30-40 percent covered by trees. At the same time, tropical forests with a tree density of 90 to 100 percent were lost.
Planting trees for the climate: that’s what other researchers say
According to Prof. Dr. Felix Creutzig from the Berlin climate research center Mercator should also get involved in countries where there are no reforestation areas. According to him, we can protect existing forests by eating less meat, for example. Because tropical forests are regularly cleared for fattening feed such as soy.
Christian Körner from the University of Basel already advised to plant long-lived woods. According to the researcher, fast-growing woods would store less carbon. They also have a shorter lifespan and would release the CO2 back into the atmosphere faster.
Jana Ballenthien, specialist for forest at the environmental organization Robin Wood, is critical of the study results. In an interview with the TAZ, she explained that new trees cannot compensate for the massive clearing of old forests. In addition, it would take new forests over a hundred years before they could store as much CO2 and moisture as old trees. "We have to drastically reduce our consumption, we have to do more recycling and we have to preserve and protect old forests," warned Ballenthien. "You cannot expect that ‘the forest’ and its wood as a sustainable raw material will simply solve all problems."
Utopia thinks: The ETH study provides good incentives: it shows that there are many areas that could be reforested to capture CO2. But that doesn’t mean we just have to plant a few trees to stop climate change. There are many factors that need to be taken into account: For the calculation to work, we would have to stop cutting down existing forests, for example, in order to grow food or wood for e.g. to win paper production. It is also unclear whether there are really enough nutrients and species-appropriate living conditions for such a large number of trees in the specified areas. It is also uncertain how so much additional forest area would affect the global climate.
The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) already said in 2017: "The cultivation of plants and the storage of the CO2 they absorb from the atmosphere is not a useful means of stabilizing our climate if fossil fuels are simply continued to be burned unabated." There would be no alternative to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ending fossil fuel use.
Reforestation can be an important step in the fight against climate change. But only this one measure cannot solve the problem. Instead, we must continue to promote renewable energies and work to emit fewer greenhouse gases. And consume less climate-damaging foods such as meat. You can find out how you can protect the climate here: 15 tips against climate change that everyone can
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