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TREES AND CLIMATE CHANGE: WHY REFORESTATION IS VITAL

Diana Chaplin | October 11, 2018 | 4 min read

As we continue to watch how climate change is making an impact around the world – fueling stronger hurricanes and forest fires, drying up water resources, diminishing food security, and displacing large populations in search of basic needs – we are also in a dire search for answers and solutions.

How Planting Trees Can Help to Reduce Climate Change

Foggy Forest
Man sitting in tree
Trees absorb carbon

1. Trees absorb carbon

Trees help to absorb carbon and other gasses from the atmosphere. A single mature tree can absorb 22lbs. of carbon a year, and makes enough clean oxygen for 4 people to breathe fresh air. A previous special report by IPCC stated that tree-planting could sequester around 1.1–1.6 GT of CO2 per year.

2. Trees protect coastal communities 

Trees protect against severe flooding and storms, by slowing the water’s strength as it surges on land, and by absorbing excess water in the soil and releasing it as water vapor into the air.

3. Trees provide shade

Trees provide shade, which helps the soil retain moisture rather than drying out, and thereby supports fertile agriculture. More shade and less sun in urban areas also helps reduce energy consumption when it’s hot, helping to flatten carbon emissions and saving on cooling costs.

4. Trees Support biodiversity

Trees can help to increase biodiversity by creating healthy ecosystems that convert the sun’s energy through photosynthesis, absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, makes soil, and provides a treasure trove of natural yet-to-be discovered biological solutions for cleaning up our planet (for example, enzymes that can eat plastic).

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. It includes a variety of activities often coupled with reforestation and conservation, which further supports healthy natural systems to thrive. This includes the removal of invasive species and the re-introduction of a diversity of native species, erosion control measures, mulching or adding nutrients, expanding passages for water systems to flow, etc.

Reforestation is the #1 climate change solutionin a landmark 2017 peer-reviewed study that was led by scientists from over 15 institutions, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which expanded and refined the scope of land-based climate solutions previously assessed by the IPCC. Conservation, or the “avoidance of forest conversion” was 2nd.

Climate Mitigation Potential

In a joint statement, the chiefs of the UN-REDD programme declared that "forests are a major, requisite front of action in the global fight against climate change – thanks to their unparalleled capacity to absorb and store carbon. Forests capture carbon dioxide at a rate equivalent to about one-third the amount released annually by burning fossil fuels. Stopping deforestation and restoring damaged forests, therefore, could provide up to 30 percent of the climate solution."

While there is still debate when it comes to global forest data, and we must transition towards sustainable energy production, one thing’s for sure: the world needs more trees and healthy forests if we are to address climate change and create a habitable world for future generations.

Reporting on Climate Change

The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for the assessment of climate change with scientists from 195 countries, offers clarity as to the state of the planet’s changing conditions and how we’ve arrived here.

Here’s the first key takeaway directly from the report:

Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence).”

“Reaching and sustaining net-zero global anthropogenic CO2 emissions and declining net nonCO2 radiative forcing would halt anthropogenic global warming on multi-decadal timescales (high confidence).”

That means the amount of CO2 that is already in the atmosphere, due to human activities such as fossil fuel production, has already warmed the world by 1° C (as compared with pre-industrial data), is on track to get that up to +1.5° C in a decade or two, and that number will continue to rise if we don’t take immediate global and systematic action to cut emissions and reduce those that are already in the atmosphere. If we continue with extractive and polluting business as usual, we’re currently on track to hit a whopping +3.4° C increase by 2100.

Interestingly, the actions required to reduce global warming would also help to reduce global poverty, since a healthier environment would increase nutritious agricultural yields… and it would improve global health. Those side benefits are in addition to the priceless conservation and expansion of plant and wildlife biodiversity.

What’s the difference between an increase of 1.5° and 2° C in global temperatures?
Glad you asked, because our partners at WRI helped to put this in perspective.

Half a Degree of Warming Makes a big difference

Reforestation and Ecological Restoration

The IPCC report includes urgent recommendations for reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere via rapid transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy technologies. It also includes a section for carbon dioxide removal in order to reduce the polluting gasses that are already in the atmosphere, in which “reforestation and ecosystem restoration,” along with similar nature-based activities, are named as the only methods that are well understood to be effective

Potential technologies could help with this in the future, but it will take years, innovation, and measurement before we know what else actually works as well as trees and nature itself at cleaning up the air.

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

As the need for reforestation is global and ever-changing, we feature where trees are most needed now. Today, we're raising funds to plant with Indigenous communities in the Andes Mountains. Learn more

With your help, we will:

  • Recover areas degraded by agricultural use
  • Protect watersheds upstream of countless families and villages
  • Reforest landscapes with strong cultural ties to Indigenous communities
  • The Andes Mountains of South America used to have abundant forest coverage, but a growing population and increasing agricultural production have caused significant deforestation. The forests of the Andes are critical for the Indigenous populations who rely on them for food, water, and jobs. But their impact goes far beyond the communities living nearby; the Andes' watersheds drain into the Amazon basin, supplying water to innumerable communities and cities downstream. Thank you so much for your support of healthy forests! 🌲
  • Our amazing partners are leading a Latin America-wide initiative to restore 1 million hectares of high Andean forest across 6 countries over the next 25 years. As part of the annual tree-planting festival Queuña Raymi, trees will be planted with the guidance of local leaders using ancient Incan traditions, preserving the landscape and Indigenous culture. The tree planting will help restore wetlands, safeguard existing forest, and protect critical Amazon headwaters.
  • A personalized tree certificate (see gallery) to say thanks for your donation. We'll also send you updates about this project, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the community and environment.
  • Our partner has chosen trees that will bring the greatest overall benefit to the region. This includes various types of Polylepsis trees which are native to the Andes and have adapted to the extremely high altitude.

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