On a daily basis, it seems, trees and their importance to the ecosystem are overlooked. Quite literally, trees are the lungs of the planet. They convert carbon dioxide into oxygen – an invaluable process, considering our species is pumping large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Fortunately, researchers have discovered how many trees to plant (and where to plant them) to mitigate the effects of global warming.
According to the research, published in the journal Science, approximately 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) of land worldwide is suitable for reforestation. In the first-of-its-kind study, the team showed where in the world new trees need to be planted and how much carbon they would store. Based on the finding(s), the Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich believes that planting trees in these locations is the most effective method to combat climate change.
“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,” said study lead author and postdoc at the Crowther Lab Jean-François Bastin.
Under the current climate conditions, the team estimates that Earth’s land could support 4.4 billion hectares. Of these 1.6 billion hectares, reports GoodNewsNetwork, 0.9 billion hectares fulfill the criterion of not being used by humans. To put this into perspective, 0.9 billion hectares is roughly the size of the United States.
Once mature, these vast forests could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon. That’s two-thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of negligent human activity since the Industrial Revolution.
Said Professor Thomas Crowther, co-author of the study and founder of the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich: “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.”
According to the study, the most suitable parts of the world suited to forest restoration include Russia (151 million hectares); the US (103 million hectares); Canada (78.4 million hectares); Australia (58 million hectares); Brazil (49.7 million hectares); and China (40.2 million hectares).
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On the Crowther Lab website, curious users can look at any point on the globe and find out how many trees could grow there and how much carbon they would store. The tool also offers a lists of forest restoration organizations. In 2019, you can also find the tool on Scientifica (website available in German only).
The Crowther tool is simple. It uses nature as a solution to: 1) better allocate resources – identifying those regions which, if restored appropriately, might have the biggest climate impact; 2) set attainable goals (with measurable targets to maximize the impact of restoration projects); and 3) monitor progress and evaluate whether or not targets or being achieved over time. With this data, corrective action can be taken where necessary.
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