Image for Mass-scale reforestation has ‘mind-blowing potential’ to combat climate change, finds study

Mass-scale reforestation has ‘mind-blowing potential’ to combat climate change, finds study

Research by Swiss experts suggests that a trillion trees could be planted to capture a huge amount of carbon dioxide

Research by Swiss experts suggests that a trillion trees could be planted to capture a huge amount of carbon dioxide

Planting billions of trees globally is by far the most impactful – and affordable – way to tackle the climate crisis, according to the scientists behind a new study.

They have calculated that 0.9bn hectares of land worldwide are suitable for reforestation, and that planting new trees in these areas could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that human activity has sent into the atmosphere. The scientists described the figure as “mind-blowing”.

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The Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich has published a study in the journal Science that suggests this would be the most effective method to combat climate change.

The researchers calculated that under the current climate conditions, Earth’s land could support 4.4 billion hectares of continuous tree cover. That is 1.6 billion more than the currently existing 2.8 billion hectares.

Of these 1.6 billion hectares, 0.9 billion hectares fulfill the criterion of not being used by humans. This means that there is currently an area of the size of the US available for tree restoration. 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.

Study lead author Jean-François Bastin said: “One aspect was of particular importance to us as we did the calculations: we excluded cities or agricultural areas from the total restoration potential as these areas are needed for human life.”

Professor Thomas Crowther, co-author of the study and founder of the Crowther Lab, added: “We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today. But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage.”

We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be

The study also shows which parts of the world are most suited to forest restoration. The greatest potential can be found in just six countries: Russia (151m hectares); the US (103m hectares); Canada (78.4m hectares); Australia (58m hectares); Brazil (49.7m hectares); and China (40.2m hectares).

A tool on the Crowther Lab website enables users to look at any point on the globe, and find out how many trees could grow there and how much carbon they would store. It also offers lists of forest restoration organisations.

Image: Nathan Anderson

 

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