The World Economic Forum plans to grow a trillion trees around the world. But is mass afforestation really a silver bullet to battle climate change?
At the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, the forum outlined an ambitious idea to fight the climate crisis: to grow, restore and conserve one trillion trees. The initiative 1t.org is designed to supplement the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-30 led by the UN Environment Programme (Unep) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
According to WEF, such nature-based solutions of locking carbon in the ground “can provide up to one-third of the emissions reductions required by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement (2015) targets". The initiative even got a stamp of approval from veteran naturalist Jane Goodall.
Click here to listen to the latest episode of Mint Climate Change Tracker podcast
But is mass reforestation really the silver bullet that it’s made out to be? There was an international flutter in July when a paper titled The Global Tree Restoration Potential by Jean-Fancois Bastin et al. was published in the journal Science. It argued, among other things, that 1.2 trillion native saplings could be planted on 1.7 billion hectares of treeless land around the world—the cheapest way of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. Ironically, among other places, the paper pinpointed Australia’s east coast as a high potential area for this. This is where the worst of Australia’s bushfires have taken place.
But other scientists point out that while planting trees is always a great idea, this alone is not enough. Even a trillion trees would take centuries to actually absorb and lock in CO2. Other, subsequent, research has indicated that mass afforestation without taking into consideration local conditions can actually result in a net increase in global temperatures. To truly capture CO2 and boost biodiversity, new forests would have to be mixed-species natural forests, not monoculture plantations.
Recently, India publicized increased “forest cover", counting plantations as well. That’s just smoke and mirrors. Ultimately, while afforestation is great, the only silver bullet that will halt the climate crisis is this: moving away immediately from energy dependency on fossil fuels.
Follow the column with #MintClimateTracker. Click here to hear the latest episode of the Mint Climate Change Tracker podcast hosted by Bibek Bhattacharya.