The destruction of trees around the world is responsible for 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions alone. Scientists say that reversing this deforestation is necessary to meet emission targets and stop catastrophic climate change.1
More broadly, halting the degradation of natural ecosystems and restoring them would help us a third of the way in meeting CO2 emissions targets. These targets are necessary to prevent any further impact of climate change.2
The world needs to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the IPCC recommends. For that, greenhouse gas emissions need to be 55 per cent lower by 2030 than in 2017.3
Is deforestation a problem?
Tropical forest land – equal to the size of Greece – is destroyed every year around the world. These forests are not just home to half of all known species on the planet, they are vital to recycling carbon dioxide back into oxygen.4
Forests, land and other natural ecosystems store and soak up a lot of carbon dioxide. They can get us at least a quarter of the way to meeting the goal to keep global warming limited to 1.5°C.5
However, over half of the world’s tropical forests have been destroyed since the 1960s.6 Thus, the scale and speed of deforestation continue to be a problem that we need to address immediately through coordinated global action.7
Can reversing deforestation stop climate change?
The rise in awareness of climate change has increased the pressure to plant more trees as one possible solution. Even oil and gas companies, including Equinor, Eni, Shell and BP, are investing money into forest projects to demonstrate a commitment to protecting the climate.8
There is some research to justify this. There are over 1.7 billion hectares of available land – the size of the US and China combined – on which 1.2 trillion tree saplings could grow. Scientists in 2019 found such an initiative would reverse years of greenhouse gas emissions.9
But while forests and nature are essential tools in the fight against climate change, we will only win if we keep fossil fuels in the ground and trees standing. One cannot be a substitute for the other. If forest offsetting is not accompanied by radical reductions in fossil fuels being burned, it allows the carbon-emitting industries to continue as usual.10
In other words, we should certainly focus on reversing deforestation. We should restore older forest areas and plant new trees to slow down climate change. They are essential. But they are not the silver bullet.
- Anonymous (2016). Combatting tropical deforestation: the REDD+ initiative. [online] Klimapolitik – European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/forests/deforestation_de [Accessed 29 Mar. 2021].
- IUCN. (2018). Forests and climate change. [online] Available at: https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/forests-and-climate-change.
- Emissions Gap Report 2018. (2018). [online] . Available at: http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/26895/EGR2018_FullReport_EN.pdf.
- Anonymous (2016). Combatting tropical deforestation: the REDD+ initiative. [online] Klimapolitik – European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/forests/deforestation_de.
- Houghton, R., Birdsey, R., Nassikas, A. and Mcglinchey, D. (n.d.). Forests and Land Use: Undervalued Assets for Global Climate Stabilization A BRIDGE TO A FOSSIL-FUEL FREE WORLD. [online] . Available at: https://whrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/PB_Forests_and_Land_Use.pdf [Accessed 29 Mar. 2021].
- International Union for Conservation of Nature (2018). Deforestation and forest degradation. [online] IUCN. Available at: https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/deforestation-and-forest-degradation.
- Nunez, C. (2019). Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet. [online] Environment. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/deforestation.
- DeSmog UK. (n.d.). Investigation: The Problem with Big Oil’s “Forest Fever.” [online] Available at: https://www.desmog.co.uk/2020/07/06/big-oil-forest-fever [Accessed 18 Apr. 2021].
- Carrington, D. (2019). Tree planting “has mind-blowing potential” to tackle climate crisis. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/planting-billions-trees-best-tackle-climate-crisis-scientists-canopy-emissions.
- Greenpeace UK. (2020). The biggest problem with carbon offsetting is that it doesn’t really work. [online] Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/the-biggest-problem-with-carbon-offsetting-is-that-it-doesnt-really-work/.