One Tree at a Time: The ‘mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisis

Leading scientists have discovered that planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis.  Interestingly, they have made calculations as to how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.  Research estimates that a worldwide programme could remove two-thirds of all emissions that have been released into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure described as “mind-blowing”.



This new analysis found that there are around 1.7bn hectares of treeless Landon which 1.2tn native tree saplings could naturally grow.  That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of China and the USA combined.  The proposal suggests that tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered; on average about half of the area would be under complete tree canopy.  The scientists excluded fields used to grow crops, as well as urban areas, from their analysis.  However, they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say the inclusion of more trees would benefit the sheep and cattle. 

“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.”

– Prof Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who led the research.

There are already tree-planting initiatives that already exist, such as the Bonn Challenge, backed by 48 nations, aimed at restoring 350m hectares of forest by 2030.  However, the study shows that many of these countries have committed to restore less than half the area that could support new forests.

The research is based on the measurement of tree cover by hundreds of people, utilising over 80,000 high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth.  Artificial intelligence then combined this data with 10 key climate, topography and soil factors to create a global map of where trees would be able to grow.  This showed that about two-thirds of all lands, around 8.7bn hectares, could support forest, whilst 5.5bn hectares already has trees.  Of the 3.2bn hectares of treeless land, around 1.5bn hectares is used for growing food, leaving up to 1.7bn hectares of potential forest land in areas that were previously sparsely vegetated or degraded.

However, some scientists argued that the estimated amount of carbon that mass tree-planting could suck from the air was too high.  Professor Simon Lewis, University College London, said that the carbon already in the land before planting was not accounted for, with it possibly taking hundreds of years to achieve maximum storage. Others also said that avoiding monoculture plantation forests, respecting local indigenous people and wildlife were crucial to ensuring that reforestation succeeds in boosting wildlife and cutting carbon. 

At ethical partnership we offer a comprehensive range of ecology and landscape services to both public and private sector clients to enable them to design developments and other schemes that are sensitive to the needs of wildlife, landscape and habitats. We help our clients protect and conserve local and global environmental resources, have been successful in securing standard and bespoke environmental permits and have an excellent working relationship with the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.  We would be happy to discuss any planning project and see how best we can incorporate the natural environment to help fight against the climate crisis, work towards biodiversity net gain, and ultimately protect the environment for years to come.  Contact us to find out more about the work we do and how we can help you, and visit our LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with the work we do. 

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