Show an ad over header. AMP

How to build forests to combat climate change

Trees can help to combat climate change, but determining what to plant and where is complex — and whether to plant them at all is a growing debate.

The big picture: Protecting, planting and restoring forests can help offsetglobal warming, but experts stress that greenhouse gas emissions still have to be dramatically cut to reach climate goals for the planet.

"There is an enormous amount of science that shows trying to protect forests and stop the loss of forests is a good idea," says Yale University's Mark Ashton.

  • "After that, things get very difficult to define and describe," he says.

Driving the news: The Trump administration this week established an interagency council to put more weight behind its role in the One Trillion Trees Initiative, my Axios colleague Ben Geman reports.

  • The effort, convened by the World Economic Forum and backed by global leaders, aims to protect or plant 1 trillion trees globally to try to sequester carbon, protect watersheds and support biodiversity.

What's happening: Some experts say there is a time and place to plant trees but the approach, which is attracting attention from companies and investors that want to offset their carbon use, isn't a silver bullet.

How it works: The ecological considerations of large-scale tree planting initiatives are complex.

  • There are questions about the species and diversity of trees that should be planted, how they interact with the soil and insects (which can affect how much carbon they sequester), and their odds of survival in environments that are already in transition due to climate change.

And there are social and economic factors to be balanced with environmental ones.

  • For example, growing non-native mangoes in Kenya could be more successful economically (if there is a market for the fruit) and ecologically (that value incentivizes people to care for the trees), says the World Resources Institute's Aaron Minnick, who oversees TerraMatch, the institute's platform to pair funders with tree projects in local communities.
  • "We need to create and shape markets for the communities planting the trees so there is economic opportunity," says Justin Adams who leads the WEF's program.
  • Planting is also an important tool in places where the soil is degraded or the native seed stock is depleted.

What's new: Allowing trees to regrow naturally is increasingly being seen as a tool for combatting climate change, says Robin Chazdon, a professor emerita at the University of Connecticut.

  • It can be done at a large and cost-effective scale because it doesn't require preparing the soil, growing, transporting and planting seedlings, or maintaining the sites like tree planting does, she says.
  • "Nature does take time to heal, and that time may be the cost," says Ashton, but the seed type and propagation of regrowth are “perhaps more resilient to the impacts of climate change than the choices we make for nature.”

In a recent study, Chazdon and her colleagues mapped the potential carbon that could be captured in forests that are allowed to naturally regrow.

  • They identified as many as 1.7 billion acres that could be naturally regrown as forests.
  • Those areas — which exclude grasslands, boreal biomes, current croplands and population centers — have the potential to absorb roughly 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years, or the equivalent of about one-quarter of global fossil fuel emissions each year.

Restoring tropical forests, in particular, would deliver the most benefits to biodiversity and mitigating climate change at the lowest cost, according to another study published yesterday in the journal Nature and led by Bernardo Strassburg of the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

  • But the researchers stress reviving grasslands and other biomes is also key.
  • And focusing on the total area that is restored is less effective in bringing about the highest levels of benefits, says Chazdon, a co-author. "Location really matters."

Whether planting or regrowing trees naturally, it is difficult to predict how people will use forests, says Ashton.

  • Each place has different social, economic, biological and climate circumstances so forest policies and projects need to include bottom-up, place-based solutions, he says.
  • "Many practices such as forest 'gardening,' using fire, and other cultural practices to work with seasonal flow of the sun are critical to current and future forest regeneration," saysKatie Kamelamela, who studies the relationship between Hawaii's Indigenous communities and their environment as a postdoctoral fellow at the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests in Hawaii.

The bottom line: "We shouldn’t just knee jerk plant trees," says Chazdon. "We need to be very strategic and smart about it."

The dangerous instability of school re-openings

Schools across the country have flip-flopped between in-person and remote learning — and that instability is taking a toll on students' ability to learn and their mental health.

The big picture: While companies were able to set long timelines for their return, schools — under immense political and social strain — had to rush to figure out how to reopen. The cobbled-together approach has hurt students, parents and teachers alike.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump doesn't have a second-term economic plan

President Trump has not laid out an economic agenda for his second term, despite the election being just eight days away.

Why it matters: This is unprecedented in modern presidential campaigns, and makes it harder for undecided voters to make an informed choice.

Keep reading... Show less

How Trump’s energy endgame could go

Expect President Trump to redouble his efforts loosening regulations and questioning climate-change science should he win reelection next month.

Driving the news: A second Trump administration would supercharge efforts by certain states, countries and companies to address global warming. But some wildcards could have a greener tinge.

Keep reading... Show less

The swing states where the pandemic is raging

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, The Cook Political Report; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Several states that are likely to decide which party controls Washington next year have exceptionally large coronavirus outbreaks or are seeing cases spike.

Why it matters: Most voters have already made up their minds. But for those few holdouts, the state of the pandemic could ultimately help them make a decision as they head to the polls — and that's not likely to help President Trump.

Keep reading... Show less

Tropical Storm Zeta may strengthen into hurricane before reaching U.S.

The U.S. Gulf Coast and Mexico are bracing for another possible hurricane after Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the Caribbean Sea Sunday.

Of note: Zeta is the 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season — equaling a record set in 2005.

Keep reading... Show less

Rockefeller Foundation commits $1 billion for COVID-19 recovery

The Rockefeller Foundation announced on Monday that it will allocate $1 billion over the next three years to address the pandemic and its aftermath.

Why it matters: The mishandled pandemic and the effects of climate change threaten to reverse global progress and push more than 100 million people into poverty around the world. Governments and big NGOs need to ensure that the COVID-19 recovery reaches everyone who needs it.

Keep reading... Show less

How Amy Coney Barrett will make an immediate impact on the Supreme Court

In her first week on the job,Amy Coney Barrett may be deciding which votes to count in the presidential election. By her third week, she’ll be deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

Where it stands: The Senate votes on Barrett’s nomination tomorrow. If she’s confirmed, Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to swear her in at the Supreme Court within hours, an administration official tells Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden team rebuffs Texas Democrats' pleas for more money

The Biden campaign is rebuffing persistent pleas from Texas Democrats to spend at least $10 million in the Lone Star state, several people familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: If Texas — which has 38 electoral votes and is steadily getting more blue, but hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1976 — flipped to the Biden column, it would be game over. But the RealClearPolitics polling average stubbornly hovers at +2.6 for Trump — and Team Biden appears more focused on closer targets.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories