Can Planting Trees Help Combat Climate Change?

Climate change is a massive global concern, but simply planting more trees likely won’t do much to combat the issue. In July 2020, researchers Pedro H. S. Brancalion and Karen D. Holl published the paper “Guidance for Successful Tree Planting Initiatives” in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Brancalion and Doll emphasized the importance of stakeholders working together to clearly define the biophysical and socioeconomic goals of each tree-planting project. Among other things, they also noted the importance of discussing the best way to achieve these objectives to minimize unintended negative outcomes and how success will be measured.

How to Plant More Trees the Right Way

In their paper, the researchers shared guidelines to help governments, businesses, conservation groups, and other organizations plant trees in a manner that maximizes benefits. This includes the following.

  • Address the underlying drivers of forest degradation. Prevent forest clearing by offering alternative sources of income for those who protect forests on their land, strengthen legal enforcement, and boost supply chain intervention efforts to minimize deforestation.
  • Integrate decision-making across scales. Groups are often motivated to plant trees for reasons that don’t align, so they need to start working together.
  • Tailor tree planting strategies to clearly stated project goals and plan, adaptively manage, and evaluate success over a sufficiently long timeframe. Stakeholders should agree on objectives at the start of a project, then work together to ensure these goals continue to be met over time — or are updated as needed.
  • Focus on the forest, not the trees. A forest isn’t composed of just trees alone, so stakeholders need to create a strategy that supports its entire ecosystem.
  • Coordinate different land uses across the landscape. Balancing different goals associated with tree planting is a must, to ensure agricultural activities that could create deforestation elsewhere are not simply displaced.
  • Involve all stakeholders throughout the process. Tree planting efforts need to be successful for the long-term, so ensuring stakeholders from every avenue are involved is crucial. Collaboration will help keep everyone engaged and feeling like they’re benefitting from the project.

The Role of Deforestation

At present, Earth’s forests and soil absorb roughly 30% of atmospheric carbon emissions — in part through forest productivity and restoration — according to NASA. Deforestation has been an issue since human life has been known on the planet, but it has seen a dramatic rise over the past 50 years.

In fact, roughly 18 million acres of forest is lost each year, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Additionally, around half of Earth’s tropical forests have already vanished.

Earth’s climate has warmed significantly as deforestation has become more rampant, so finding ways to fight this as quickly as possible is a must.

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