What if getting to the root (pun intended) of addressing climate change is simpler than we think?
Global Forest Watch states that forests can provide 30% of the solution to climate change. Tree-planting initiatives put forward by governments and organisations such as the World Economic Forum's One Trillion Trees attempts to deploy a natural solution to climate change.
If executed correctly, planting trees and increasing forest area can address some of the impacts of deforestation caused by activities like agriculture expansion, mining, logging, and increased fire frequency and intensity caused by climate change. Large-scale tree-planting initiatives can be undertaken as either reforestation or afforestation projects.
Mongabay has put together a database of tree-planting projects based on ecological, economic, social and institutional factors as a starting point to research if you are considering a project! These factors are particularly important for projects based in regions or communities that live by and depend on forests for their livelihood!
Donating your time or money to tree-planting initiatives can be a rewarding way to tackle climate change, but here are some things to understand and research before you go barking up the wrong tree (sorry, again, pun intended)!
The important facts about deforestation!
Did you know 31% of the world's total land area is forest and five countries, including Russia, Brazil, Canada, The United States, and China, contain over half of the world's forests?
10,000 years ago, there were 6 billion hectares of forest area!
Today, only 4 billion hectares are left. The world has lost one-third of its forest and most of this occurred in the last century. We've lost the same amount of forest as in the previous 9,000 years in the past century. Increased deforestation is the reason this is happening.
Deforestation is the conversion of forest to other land uses, such as agriculture and infrastructure, resulting in an irreversible change to the land. It contributes to climate change because it removes trees that play an essential role in carbon sequestration and disrupts or destroys ecosystems and biodiversity. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. Carbon is stored in their leaves, branches, stems, bark, and roots, and approximately half the dry weight of a tree's biomass is carbon.
95% of the world's deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests, threatening the world's most diverse ecosystems. Tropical forests are located near the equator in Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America and are rich in biodiversity, containing the highest species diversity! They have warm temperatures between 20 and 31°C with high rainfall and only two seasons; wet and dry season.
In Latin America and Southeast Asia deforestation is driven by production activities and accounts for two-thirds of forest loss. Forests are cleared to grow crops such as palm oil and soy, and pasture for beef production. Deforestation in forests like the Amazon is particularly concerning because as a primary forest its ecological integrity and has more complex ecosystems that are more resilient to disturbances.
Forest degradation also results in the loss of forest but is defined by a reduction of tree density but will not necessarily cause irreversible loss as there is no change to land use. Therefore, the forest should be able to regrow and the tree cover is not permanently lost.
See the forest for the trees
Reforestation occurs through natural regeneration or planted forests. 93% of the total forest area comprises naturally regenerating forests. These forests hold more biodiversity and ecosystem benefits than planted forests. In addition, naturally regenerating forests can store more carbon than plantation or planted forests. This is because they contain larger plant species, for example, tree species that grow taller, which allows them to capture more sunlight for effective photosynthesis and, therefore, carbon storage. Naturally regenerating forests also tend to be left alone and allowed to grow for more extended periods than planted forests.
Planted forests are for the production of timber, fibre, and energy. They can be planted on land that did not previously have trees, afforestation, or on previous forest land. Almost half of the planted forests are plantation forests comprising only one or two tree species and are used for productive purposes. Trees in planted forests are harvested within a short period, and once harvested, any stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere if burned for fuel. However, planted forests help reduce harvesting pressure on natural forests. Other planted forests are planted to resemble natural forests and include forests established for ecosystem restoration and soil and water protection, but still do not necessarily have the same benefits as natural forests.
How to spot a good tree-planting project & other things you can do
Tree-planting doesn't always lead to tree-growing! We know that even houseplants can be hard to keep alive! Let alone entire forests!
Meeting climate targets has never been more political, with governments and companies being increasingly pressured to implement and revise better environmental practices and policies. Tree-planting is an appealing initiative as it bears relatively low economic costs relative to other carbon reduction methods and can seem like a much simpler solution.
However, projects are often put forward with an objective to plant a certain number of trees, but if reforestation efforts are to be successful in mitigating climate change and other restoration effects, the number of trees planted is not an accurate measure of success. Reforestation efforts which opt for tree-plantations are also going to be less effective in mitigating climate change than reforestation efforts to allow natural regeneration.
Also, most projects operate on a short time frame but many tree species require more time to sufficiently grow. Often there is also little emphasis on the right trees, for the right place and the right purposes. Social considerations are also lacking even though studies have shown that local community involvement is crucial to success.
While it's crucial we plant more trees, the best solution is to not cut them down at all!Let's try to buy products that are forest-friendly! This means avoiding or cutting back on products like beef, uncertified palm oil or products from areas we know have issues with deforestation like the Amazon. You can also look out for product certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance. As consumers, we can use our purchasing power to demand companies be more transparent and provide more information on their labels!
Also! Remember to connect to the trees around you and breathe in the fresh air! This is the easiest way to appreciate all that they do for our planet!