More trees could save the climate

DEA  ALBERT CEOLAN—De Agostini via Getty Images

Even with existing cities and farmland, there's enough space for new trees to cover nine million square kilometres, they reported in Thursday's journal Science.

Much of that benefit will come quickly because trees remove more carbon from the air when they are younger, the study authors said.

The Crowther Lab finds that forests could be regrown on 1.7-1.8 billion hectares of land in areas with low human activity that are not now used as urban or agricultural land, adding 0.9 billion hectares of tree canopy. The most recent report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change proposed that limiting climate change to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) will require up to an extra 2.47 billion acres of forest by 2050. Once mature, these new forests could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon: about two thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution.

"Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today", Crowther explained. If we act now, this could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by up to 25%, to levels last seen nearly a century ago. The greatest po-tential can be found in just six countries: Russian Federation (151 million hectares); the USA (103 million hectares); Canada (78.4 million hectares); Australia (58 million hectares); Brazil (49.7 million hectares); and China (40.2 million hectares).

Data released from the US space agency NASA have shown that China led the way in greening on land, thanks to its ambitious tree-planting program and intensive agriculture.

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But, not all forested areas would be well-suited for this type of restoration, the team notes.

The authors say that this is the most effective climate change solution available to the world right now.

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"But the question of whether it is actually feasible to restore this much forest is much more hard", Field said in an email.

The study says those new trees could suck up about as much carbon pollution as humans have spewed in the past 25 years. As the authors write, "it remains unclear what proportion of this land is public or privately owned, and so we can not identify how much land is truly available for restoration".

The study's calculations make sense, said Chris Field, an environmental scientist at Stanford University in California who also wasn't part of the study.

That effort calls for 350 million hectares of degraded land worldwide to be restored by 2030. Deforestation not only contributes to an alarming loss of biodiversity, but limits our ability to store carbon in the trees, undergrowth and soil.

Humanity has crept into every nook and cranny of the planet, and now we're being forced to confront the ramifications and make our peace with that, including in the art we're creating. "It's not telling us at all how to implement it. We have the solutions at our fingertips; we just need the global political will to fight for our world". Furthermore, Crowther Lab are supporting the creation of a global coalition that will bring targeted innovation to the opportunities and challenges identified by the Report.

Australia is one of six countries that has been flagged as having "tree restoration potential".

The researchers, aided by hundreds of helpers, measured the amount of the tree cover shown in 80,000 high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth. The researchers modelled two climate scenarios - one where emissions rise rapidly and another where they peak by mid-century and start to decline - to see how habitable those areas would actually be for trees.

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