Afforestation and Deforestation

Afforestation and deforestation are polar opposites. Afforestation involves planting new trees on land that has not recently been forested.1 Deforestation, in contrast, is the removal of a forest, typically for conversion to agriculture.2

Replacing the trees lost from deforestation can have a positive environmental impact.3 However, it can take decades for new trees to absorb the same carbon dioxide levels (CO2) as an old forest.4 Where afforestation takes place can also hugely affect trees’ efficacy to sequester CO2.5 It is, therefore, important to carefully manage afforestation efforts whilst reducing deforestation to combat climate change successfully.

How would deforestation and afforestation affect climate change?

Deforestation and climate change

Deforestation has a significant impact on climate change. Trees capture and store greenhouse gases, including CO2 through photosynthesis.6 They remove these gases from the atmosphere and prevent them from trapping heat and contributing to global warming.7 Cutting down trees, and then either burning them or allowing them to rot, releases their stored carbon.8 In this way, deforestation accounts for at least 10 per cent of global emissions.9

Afforestation and climate change

Afforestation can counter climate change. Planting additional trees can remove CO2 from the atmosphere, as they sequester it in their biomass and the soil.10 Many countries recognise this potential. For example, China aims to afforest an area four times the size of the UK to offset its carbon emissions.11 

One significant advantage of afforestation is that new forests can absorb more carbon, as the trees can be planted close together.12 But, a tree’s carbon absorption rate accelerates as it grows, meaning that tall old trees act as the best carbon sinks.13 Old-growth forests can continue to sequester carbon for centuries, locking it away and keeping it out of the atmosphere.14 It is also important to leave forests alone. Intact primary forests store 30 to 70 per cent more carbon than logged and degraded forests.15 

There is no single solution to climate change. To prevent a disastrous global temperature increase above 1.5°C, a multifaceted approach must be taken.16 A halt to the current rate of deforestation is crucial.17 Trees are the best, and most efficient, way to sequester CO2.18 We need to prevent them from being cut down and releasing CO2.19 Similarly, we need more afforestation to offset the CO2 already in our atmosphere.20 Thirdly, we need to rapidly reduce our energy dependence on fossil fuels – the dominant cause of greenhouse gases.21

Sources

  1. Archive.ipcc.ch. (n.d.). Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry. [online] Available at: https://archive.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/land_use/index.php?idp=47 [Accessed 2 Feb. 2021].
  2. Youmatter. (n.d.). What Is Deforestation? Definition, Causes, Effects and Solutions to Stop it. [online] Available at: https://youmatter.world/en/definition/definitions-what-is-definition-deforestation-causes-effects/#:~:text=Deforestation%20refers%20to%20the%20decrease.
  3. Earth Innovation Institute. (2019). Reforestation can help reverse the climate and extinction crises. It’s cost-effective too. – Earth Innovation Institute. [online] Available at: https://earthinnovation.org/2019/05/reforestation-can-help-reverse-the-climate-and-extinction-crises/.
  4. Earth Innovation Institute. (2019). Reforestation can help reverse the climate and extinction crises. It’s cost-effective too. – Earth Innovation Institute. [online] Available at: https://earthinnovation.org/2019/05/reforestation-can-help-reverse-the-climate-and-extinction-crises/.
  5. Umair Irfan (2019). Climate change solutions: forest restoration might be one of the best ways to fight climate change. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/2019/7/4/20681331/climate-change-solutions-trees-deforestation-reforestation.
  6. Rainforest Alliance. (2018). What is the Relationship Between Deforestation And Climate Change? [online] Available at: https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/articles/relationship-between-deforestation-climate-change.
  7. Rainforest Alliance. (2018). What is the Relationship Between Deforestation And Climate Change? [online] Available at: https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/articles/relationship-between-deforestation-climate-change.
  8. Union of Concerned Scientists (2012). Tropical Deforestation and Global Warming | Union of Concerned Scientists. [online] www.ucsusa.org. Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/tropical-deforestation-and-global-warming#:~:text=When%20trees%20are%20cut%20down.
  9. Union of Concerned Scientists (2012). Tropical Deforestation and Global Warming | Union of Concerned Scientists. [online] www.ucsusa.org. Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/tropical-deforestation-and-global-warming#:~:text=When%20trees%20are%20cut%20down.
  10. Sciencedirect.com. (2013). Afforestation – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/afforestation.
  11. Macmillan (2019). How much can forests fight climate change? [online] Nature.com. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00122-z.
  12. Erickson-Davis, M. (2019). Tall and old or dense and young: Which kind of forest is better for the climate? [online] Mongabay Environmental News. Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/05/tall-and-old-or-dense-and-young-which-kind-of-forest-is-better-for-the-climate/.
  13. Erickson-Davis, M. (2019). Tall and old or dense and young: Which kind of forest is better for the climate? [online] Mongabay Environmental News. Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/05/tall-and-old-or-dense-and-young-which-kind-of-forest-is-better-for-the-climate/.
  14. mossy.earth. (n.d.). Carbon Sequestration Methodology. [online] Available at: https://www.mossy.earth/methodologies/carbon-sequestration-methodology.
  15. Primary Forests and Carbon. (n.d.). [online] . Available at: https://primaryforest.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/ForestCarbonFactsheet_26112015.pdf.
  16. IPCC (2019). Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.
  17. Panda.org. (2017). Deforestation Fronts. [online] Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/forests_practice/deforestation_fronts_/.
  18. Earth Innovation Institute. (2019). Reforestation can help reverse the climate and extinction crises. It’s cost-effective too. – Earth Innovation Institute. [online] Available at: https://earthinnovation.org/2019/05/reforestation-can-help-reverse-the-climate-and-extinction-crises/.
  19. Union of Concerned Scientists. (2016). What’s Driving Deforestation? [online] Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/whats-driving-deforestation.
  20. Planted, O.T. (n.d.). How Planting Trees Offsets Carbon. [online] One Tree Planted. Available at: https://onetreeplanted.org/blogs/stories/planting-trees-offsets-carbon.
  21. Union of Concerned Scientists. (2016). What’s Driving Deforestation? [online] Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/whats-driving-deforestation.