Planting more trees — to the tune of 1.2 trillion — could be the answer to saving the Earth, with the trees capable of storing so much carbon dioxide (CO2) that they would cancel out a decades’ worth of human-made (CO2) emissions.1 Further, thanks to the work of ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at Swiss university ETH Zurich, it’s now known that there’s room for an additional 1.2 trillion trees on the planet.
The team global forest inventory data from the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative (GFBI) combined with satellite data to gain an understanding of the global forest system. They also studied data from the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI), which revealed a first glimpse of global patterns in biomass and diversity of the global soil microbiome.
“Using this combination of above ground and below ground data we can identify regions of high priority for biodiversity conservation,” Crowther said in research presented at the 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, D.C. “Additionally, we can finally start to understand the feedbacks that determine atmospheric carbon concentrations over the rest of the century.”2
Planting Trees the ‘Most Powerful Weapon’
Crowther stated that planting trees was our “most powerful weapon” in protecting the planet, with their research suggesting an additional 1.2 trillion trees could be planted across the globe to capture massive amounts of carbon from the environment. Currently, the Earth is home to 3 trillion trees, which is seven times more than previously believed.
“There’s 400 gigatons [of carbon] now, in the 3 trillion trees, and if you were to scale that up by another trillion trees that’s in the order of hundreds of gigatons captured from the atmosphere — at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out,” Crowther told The Independent.3
The United Nations already responded to the findings, changing their Billion Tree Campaign to the Trillion Tree Campaign, which states, “Global reforestation could capture 25 percent of global annual carbon emissions and create wealth in the global south.”
More than 13.6 billion trees have already been planted as part of the campaign,4 which tracks not only where trees have been planted but also where forests currently exist and where forests could be restored. The Trillion Tree Campaign states that there is actually space for up to 600 billion mature trees on the planet, without taking space away from agricultural land.
However, since some planted trees won’t survive, the target is to plant at least 1 trillion trees to reach the 600 billion mature tree goal. “Additionally, we must protect the 170 billion trees in imminent risk of destruction. They are crucial carbon storages and essential ecosystems to protect biodiversity,” they state.5
Planting Trees Protects Biodiversity
Loss of biodiversity is another major environmental hurdle that planting trees could help remedy. Deforestation, forest degradation and other factors are currently threatening about half of tree species worldwide, which could have dire consequences on the productivity of ecosystems therein.
Using more than three-quarters of a million sample plots in 44 countries containing more than 30 million trees, researchers revealed that continued loss of biodiversity would result in accelerating decline in worldwide forest productivity.6 The work, a product of GFBI, Crowther and colleagues, found that, on average, a 10 percent loss in biodiversity leads to a 3 percent loss in productivity.
“The value of biodiversity in maintaining commercial forest productivity alone — $166 to $490 billion per year according to our estimation — is by itself over two to six times the total estimated cost that would be necessary for effective global conservation. This highlights the need for a worldwide reassessment of biodiversity values, forest management strategies and conservation priorities,” GFBI explained.7
Crowther added to The Independent, “We are not targeting urban or agricultural area, just degraded or abandoned lands, and it has the potential to tackle the two greatest challenges of our time — climate change and biodiversity loss.”8