Climate change has no easy solution. We need immediate, proven, and sustainable action to reverse increasing global temperatures, rising ocean levels, and melting sea ice. Fortunately, we already have the best carbon emissions-fighting products available — trees.
Conserving and restoring forests can provide over one-third of the climate change mitigation needed to meet the Paris Agreement targets in the next decade. And with rising global temperatures and changing weather patterns putting us all at risk of going hungry, forests are invaluable to capturing and storing the carbon that’s destroying food crops.
But should we rush out and just plant as many trees as possible? Not exactly! The more effective solution is easier. We want to show you how protecting our existing trees and forests is critical in our climate change prevention toolkit.
Why Is It Important To Protect Trees?
We all know what trees are good for—providing habitat, filtering our air, preventing erosion, and protecting biodiversity. Not to mention being beautiful and improving our quality of life.
It’s no secret that trees impact climate change. Forests, soil, and the ocean are called carbon sinks, and they’ve been remediating carbon emissions forever. Larger trees can store massive amounts of carbon in their leaves, branches, trunks, and roots — around half their weight.
But today, human activities are incredibly reliant on emissions-heavy energy sources, meaning there are just more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than carbon sinks can handle.
Consider this — today forests are storing more metric tons of carbon than all the carbon emissions since the industrial revolution (almost 200 years ago). Not only that, according to the UN Environmental Programme, 1.6 billion people globally depend on forests for their livelihoods. That’s 20% of the world’s population!
So, in addition to planting trees for the environment, we need to maintain current ones too. When we commit to protecting the trees, we can ensure more forestry-dependent jobs are retained, more carbon emissions are stored, and more species will have a home.
Older Trees Capture More Carbon
It’s true that mature trees are more effective at storing carbon — because their trunks and root systems are larger. They can also enrich the soil, as leaves transfer their stored carbon into the ground as they decompose.
Even if we replanted every tree cut down, it takes time and effort before newer trees can capture as much carbon as effectively as mature trees. While some logging is necessary (and even beneficial), preventing climate change is the biggest reason why we shouldn’t cut down trees by the masses.
For example, about 100 tons of carbon emissions are avoided with every hectare of mature forests we preserve. Conversely, a restored forest takes 30 years longer to capture the same amount of carbon as an old-growth forest.
To put it in perspective, it takes many more young trees to absorb the same amount of carbon as one old tree, with the largest 1% of trees accounting for half of the weight of carbon stored above ground.
Finally, researchers found protecting mature forests can double their carbon-capturing capabilities. Double the carbon capture would mean a huge impact on greenhouse gases! And when you consider mature forests are already pulling out one-third of human-caused carbon emissions, it’s a pretty compelling reason to end deforestation.
Planting New Trees Requires More Work
You can probably list a bunch of reasons why planting trees is important. We agree, but remember, growing new trees from seeds is much more labor-intensive than preserving our existing forests. Planting new trees means we have to invest time and care in watering, fertilizing, pruning, and removing pests until the tree can sustain itself.
Young trees need to be nurtured and cared for to make sure they reach maturity, and there’s no guarantee that a tree planted will survive at all. Plus, it can take decades for a tree to reach maturity — about 20 years for trees at the equator and as much as 120 years for boreal forests in Canada and Europe.
Planting New Trees Is Expensive
Reforestation comes with a hefty price tag. And the cost of planting new trees is rising. Research has shown that meeting just 10% of emissions reduction goals could cost up to $393 billion annually by 2055.
To plant enough trees to sequester 6 gigatons of carbon — or the equivalent of taking 1.3 billion cars off the road for one year — we’ll need a lot of land, people, and seeds!
That’s not to say protecting the trees doesn’t have costs, too — lobbying for protected areas, maintenance, and security to prevent illegal logging can all cost money. But, as we reforest depleted areas, we can steward these projects AND our existing trees, saving costs while we save the planet.
Reforestation Projects Can Be Less Sustainable
It’s unclear whether newly-planted forests can support the animal, insect, and plant ecosystems that current forests do. We won’t have answers anytime soon, as studies take years to conduct (plus there are only so many reforestation projects).
We know that a newly-planted forest needs as much as 30 times more land to have the same climate change mitigation! But, a typical reforestation project can only sequester about 3% of what a mature, biodiversity-rich forest can. That’s right, much more land for much, much less carbon captured.
Still, a young tree is better than no tree at all. We know why should we plant trees — the positive effects of planting trees includes removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which we all are responsible for reducing.
If you want to take control over your carbon emissions, we can help you calculate your personal carbon footprint and put it into concrete terms that are easy to understand. Learn more about how you can help fight climate change with our guide to carbon offsetting.
Does Planting Trees Help the Environment?
Yes! Planting trees still helps the environment. New trees still absorb carbon dioxide and store it in their leaves, branches, and trunk, just less than mature trees.
How to stop water pollution
Forests help with much more than air pollution and carbon dioxide. They also prevent soil erosion and runoff, which is critical because, according to the World Wildlife Fund, 50% of the planet’s topsoil was lost in the last 150 years.
That erosion leads to water pollution in waterways, causing fish and other species to die off. Also, degraded soil can’t hold onto rainwater, causing terrible floods. More trees mean better soil quality, less erosion, and fewer floods. So if you’re wondering how to stop water pollution, planting trees might be the solution.
What are trees good for
The human benefits of planting trees are essential to think about, too. We’re more affected by our surroundings than we might be aware. For example, research shows that being around trees daily improves mental and physical health outcomes.
Tree cover also has a very low albedo, which means it absorbs the sun’s energy instead of reflecting it into the atmosphere like the planet’s surface. The more forests are clear-cut or degraded less energy is absorbed, and more is trapped in the atmosphere, increasing the global temperature.
Reforestation Is One Solution Among Many
We partner with many types of carbon offset projects, like this mangrove project in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar. The project is restoring vital mangrove forests, stabilizing the coastline, reducing erosion, and providing a home to fish, birds, and plants. Not to mention reducing carbon as mangroves store up to four times as much carbon as inland forests.
The Myanmar mangrove work is vital, but we won’t solve climate change with reforestation or preservation alone. Fundamental changes are needed to how the industries that shape our economy operate, using long-term sustainable methods.
While governments and businesses are creating sustainable business practices, these “natural climate solutions” like reforestation and conservation are critical to mitigate and stabilize the climate. That’s why planting trees is vital now, and protecting the trees will be important forever!