Cutting carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels is the most important way to mitigate climate change. Planting more trees to offset carbon emissions will not be as effective, researchers have found.
The world may find it hard to mitigate carbon emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels. However, this is still a necessary step to keeping the planet from reaching dangerously high temperatures. Nations around the world have a goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We thus have to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C. To meet this goal, drastically cutting carbon emissions is necessary.
There have been suggestions of “negative emissions” techniques that take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One of these techniques is planting fast-growing tree species to reduce carbon emissions. While this technique may be beneficial, it cannot stand on its own and works best as a supplement to other carbon reduction efforts.
Planting more trees isn't an effective alternative to reducing fossil fuel burning. In fact, if we resort to simply planting more trees, we'd have to turn nearly all ecosystems in the world into plantations. This can have massive consequences on the environment and food availability. Of course, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't plant trees or make the planet greener. It's simply that it's not an alternative to what the world actually needs to do to cut carbon emissions.
However, what if the necessary techniques and policies of reducing emissions had failed? Will establishing large plantations of trees be effective then?
Not even then, according to this study. Failure is not an option, and the ambitious techniques for cutting carbon emissions have to work. A scenario in which they won't work is devastating, and tree plantations won't be able to help by then. The best way to cut carbon emissions is to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Thus, reducing fossil fuel burning is necessary to keeping global temperatures from rising above the limit. We also need to reforest degraded land, limit food waste, make irrigation systems more efficient, and many other options.
When it comes to dealing with cutting carbon emissions, carbon dioxide removal techniques like planting more trees are more like a supporting character. Reducing the use of fossil fuels until we stop using them altogether takes center stage.
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