atmospheric carbon

Sustainable Development and Massive Tree Planting

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Earlier this year at a UN Assembly meeting in Beijing, Secretary General Antonio Gutteres stressed to world leaders that the time for transitional change is now; we have only 10 to 12 years to prevent the 1.5 degree global temperature change that indicates a point of no return, and “no country or community is immune,” as the Secretary General reminded the attendees. “As we know, the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer, and the worst hit,” said Mr. Guterres. The solution lies in green and sustainable development, or projects that align with the Paris accord and the UN 2030 Agenda.

With this urgency serving as a global cultural backdrop, researchers at ETH Zurich, a university that specializes in science and engineering, have quantified a common question: can aggressively planting and developing forests absorb atmospheric carbon and buy us more time?

Researchers determined that the planet can sustain 2.5 billion additional acres of forest without including existing cities and farms, and that these additional trees could store 200 gigatons of carbon poured into the atmosphere by industrial activity.

The studies authors declared that 2/3 of historic carbon emissions could be reabsorbed by this massive development. While critics of the study maintain the amount would be closer to 1/3, the findings are still significant and even though it’s just a hypothetical thought exercise, the move could put a serious dent in the damage inflicted on the planet during the past 150 years.

“The new information simply allows us to re-prioritize investment into the restoration of forests and the conservation of existing forests as this has more potential for carbon capture than we could have anticipated,” according to the senior author of the study.

As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which is returned to the soil when the trees die and decompose. Just short list of countries with the space and terrain available for massive tree plantings could accommodate almost all of the 2.5 billion acres that would be needed to stave off climate change: Russia tops the list, followed by the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

Now the most important question remains: who will organize this effort, and who will plant the trees?