Climate change: Tree planting makes sense

The earth as of today is populated with more than 3 trillion trees, eight times as many as we had a decade ago. But that number is rapidly shrinking, according to a global tree survey carried out recently. We are losing 15 billion trees a year to toilet paper, timber, farmland expansion, and other human needs. Due to these activities and natural occurrences, we keep losing the earth’s natural vegetation thereby causing climate change and global warming.

The world’s forests store around 16 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year — a little over three times what European countries emit annually. But these forested areas are shrinking at an alarming rate. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, around 10 million hectares of forest are lost each year, mainly due to the expansion of agriculture. And when trees are cut down, much of the carbon they’re storing gets released into the atmosphere.

Recently, devastating evidence has shown that because of the damage done to the Amazon rainforest, it is gradually losing its ability to store carbon. In fact, various activities both natural and human-caused are leading to it in some cases releasing greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

As a result, scientists are extremely concerned by emerging evidence that parts of the Amazon are becoming a carbon source, not a carbon sink. Drying wetlands and soil compaction from logging, for example, can increase emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

Tree-planting has become a cornerstone of many environmental campaigns in recent years. Planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

The call to plant trees is everywhere, seen as a simple and effective way to help reduce the impact of carbon emissions and restore natural ecosystems. Perhaps the most ambitious example is the 1 trillion trees campaign launched by the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020 in support of the UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to restore, protect, or plant 1 trillion trees by 2030. That followed a similar campaign aiming to plant 1 trillion trees by 2050 which was kicked off in 2018 by nature nonprofits including WWF.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting Programme could remove just under one-third of all the emissions from human activities that remain in the atmosphere today, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”. The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy.

Trees can be powerful allies in the fight against global heating because they can trap CO2 and lock it away. Forests are valuable carbon sinks, but scientists say we shouldn’t rely on them to solve the climate crisis. Trees are majestic and beautiful. Not only are they impressive to look at, they also provide fruits for human consumption, timber to build, oxygen to breathe and habitats for wildlife. But the fact that they absorb carbon dioxide — the heat-trapping gas released by the burning of fossil fuels — is the main reason they’ve been touted as one of the solutions to the climate crisis.

In a bid to offset the damage, dozens of initiatives have sprouted up in recent decades seeking to plant billions of trees to suck more CO2 from the air. Locally we have projects such as the Mahadi Reforestation Initiative by Mahadi Foundation, The Green CommuniTree Projects by Farmtastic Farms as close examples of tree planting initiatives. Governments around the world, as well as companies such as Microsoft and Nestle, have made tree-planting pledges to boost forest cover. I implore more initiatives on tree planting to make the world greener and a better place.

Imam Maiyaki,
Kaduna, Kaduna state
[email protected], 07039439896.