Why planting trees help fight climate change
To address climate change, we need to plant trees, since manmade technological solutions for reducing CO2 at a large scale currently don’t exist.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argues that more carbon dioxide needs to be absorbed from the atmosphere than is released… at the latest by 2050.
But in 2019, about 37 billion tons of CO2 were emitted into the earth’s atmosphere. That’s 50% more than in the year 2000 and almost three times as much as 50 years ago.
Emissions have returned to pre-Covid trends in the US, EU and India and further emissions growth was sparked in China. Adding all the different greenhouse gases together, about 51 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents are currently being emitted per year.
Emissions from deforestation and other land-use change remain high.
Top of the list of reasons to plant a tree is therefore to combat climate change and reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere.
The level of CO2 continues to increase in the atmosphere, causing climate change.
Benefits for the climate:
1. Carbon Capture
A mature tree absorbs about 22 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere, helping to counteract climate change.
The speed of carbon absorption is fastest for trees of middle age (between 20-60 years old, depending on the type of tree) but the total amount of carbon absorbed increases with the size of the tree.
2. Oxygen Production
In exchange, trees release oxygen, providing the air we need to survive.
Trees absorb more incoming solar radiation than other land surfaces, helping to keep cities cool in the summer.
Trees also help to cool warm climates through a high rate of evaporation of water from their leaves into the air (a process called evapotranspiration).
An increase in tree cover of 10% reduces summer surface temperatures by about 1.4 °C.
The cooling effect can be even greater in warmer regions. Planting trees in urban areas helps to reduce urban heat in summer by between 2 and 8 degrees C and mitigates air pollution.
4. Weather Regulation
Trees help to regulate local rainfall and prevent extreme weather events.
Forests made of diverse species are more resilient to extreme weather events like droughts, pest outbreaks, storms and wildfires.
Benefits for the environment:
5. Air Purification
Trees clean the air we breathe.
Every year, one tree’s leaves and bark absorb about 19Kg of pollutants from the air.
They filter particles such as dust and smoke and absorb pollutant gases like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and ozone.
6. Water Purification
Trees improve water quality by trapping or filtering water pollutants.
A tree filters up to 450 litres of water per day.
7. Water Regulation
Trees help to regulate the water cycle, for example by helping to prevent floods and mitigating droughts by retaining and storing rainwater.
8. Water-side Habitats
Alongside rivers, trees help to stabilize riverbanks, providing habitats and shelter.
9. Soil Protection
Trees reduce soil erosion, by protecting the soil from rain and wind.
10. Water Cooling
The shade from trees can help to avoid excessive water temperatures.
11. Attracting Nature
Trees shelter and nourish wildlife, bringing nature into our cities.
12. Providing Homes
A single tree can provide a home to hundreds of insects, fungi, moss, mammals and plants.
Different ages and species of trees provide homes to different types of home-makers.
Trees provide nesting and hibernating for e.g. pollinators.
Sustainable timber is also an environmentally friendly building material for people’s homes.
13. Supporting Biodiversity
In forests, trees are part of complex ecosystems and are home to around 80% of the world’s biodiversity.
14. Increasing Crop Yields
Combing forestry and agriculture can improve soil quality and chemistry, restoring topsoil, and provide around double the benefits for biodiversity and the ecosystem.
It also nearly doubles food yields, compared to traditional agriculture.
15. Supports Land Regeneration
Planting trees on damaged and abandoned land improves biodiversity, water purification, soil retention and stabilization.
16. Adds Beauty
A view of trees and woodlands increases the beauty of the countryside, of towns and cities and helps to create a better living environment.
Trees provide nesting sites, food and cover for a huge number of bird species. As a result, songbirds fill our urban environment with music.
Trees, forests and the forestry industry provide food and jobs around the world.
Trees increase property values by 15% or more.
19. Reducing Heating and Cooling Costs
The careful placement of trees can shade our homes from the sun, reducing the need for air conditioning by 30%.
Trees can also protect our homes from winter winds, saving 20-50% of the energy used for heating.
20. Reducing Adaptation Costs
Trees can reduce the costs of adapting to climate change, such as controlling floodwaters.
They help to reduce and slow down peak water flows, decrease total water volumes and promote stabilizing rates of soil permeability and water absorption.
Benefits of planting trees for our health
21. Reducing Air Pollution
Trees reduce pollution.
In 2018, there were nearly 40,000 premature deaths linked to air pollution in Europe.
22. Providing Medicines
Forests produce natural medicines.
Many modern pharmaceutical medicines were derived from the bark, leaves and flowers of trees.
These are also still directly used in herbal medicine.
23. Reduce Disease
Trees can reduce the spread of diseases transmitted to humans by animals, protecting humans and livestock from deadly pathogens.
For example, increases in the risk of Lyme disease are linked to reduced forest cover.
24. Promoting Recreation and Mental Health
Forests support cultural and spiritual activities, as well as mental health.
Trees reduce stress and anxiety and allow humans to reconnect with nature.
In urban environments, trees help to promote psychological and physical recreation.
25. Promote Wellbeing
Forests contribute more to human well-being than any other type of ecosystem.
What should I consider when planting a tree?
For tree planting and forest restoration to be successful, the right tree has to be planted in the right place, for the right purpose.
It’s better to plant one tree well than five trees poorly.
The planting method, the tree species selected, the soil chemistry and biomass, the management of the tree and its aftercare are all important.
The best way to help trees survive is to:
Ensure that local people and local communities are involved. They have local knowledge and can help to care for the trees in the early years of their life.
Plant native trees which will flourish in the existing and future climatic conditions in a particular area. Global warming is already shifting the boundaries of vegetation zones and tree ranges northwards and upwards.
Plant a variety of different native species over time, but avoid invasive alien species. A healthy and thriving forest is made up of a variety of different species of different ages.
Plant trees which benefit both biodiversity and the climate. Broadleaved forests generate the highest soil organic carbon increase.
Ensure that suitable land is being used for planting. No trees should be planted in areas of high nature value such as mires, bogs, fens, wetlands, peatlands, and ancient or natural grasslands. These soils are already amongst the best natural carbon sinks we have.
The 10 golden rules for reforestation:
In practice, the right mix of tree species should be planted not only in forests, but also in rural and urban areas.
Tree planting in cities can be very beneficial even in small numbers, while planting in rural areas can bring added benefits when coupled with agroforestry or landscape features.
Planting trees should be complemented by encouraging tree growth from assisted natural regeneration. The advantages of spontaneous forests are that they quickly and efficiently gather biodiversity (tree gene diversity, insects, endophytes, small mammals, birds). They may also be quicker to adapt to climate change.
Read more about how trees help climate change today.