Mass tree planting may be ineffective in climate change context

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One of the international community’s efforts to slow climate change is planting trees to reduceCO2 levels. According to a recent publication by Oxford researchers, it turns out that the large-scale monoculture crops created in recent years are not at all the most efficient solution in this aspect. While all climate protection initiatives should be appreciated, viewing forests solely through the lens of carbon may do more harm than good.

The value of the globalCO2 sequestration market continues to grow

Measures to halt climate change and reduce its effects include not only efforts to reduce emissions of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, but also its sequestration, or carbon capture and storage (CCS).

An important strategy in the area of eliminating excessCO2, In addition to geological sequestration, is the so-called “geological sequestration. Land-based sequestration, which includes solutions based on using biological processes and locating carbon in plant tissues. So far, it has primarily involved planting trees and creating extensive monocultures to take advantage of their potential to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Tree planting efforts have momentum, and the carbon sequestration market continues to grow. According to forecasts, in 2028. Its value will reach $7 trillion.

Oxford researchers, in a review article published in the latest issue of the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, warn that mass tree planting, without consideration of the scientific basis, may be ineffective in the context of climate change.

Forests – one of the ways to sequesterCO2

Forests are ecosystems that perform a vitally important function in slowing the dynamics of climate change. Importantly, middle-aged stands show the greatest potential in this regard, and both young forests and decaying old stands emit amounts ofCO2 that exceed the absorbed value.

The absorptive capacity of forests forCO2 depends on a great many factors, such as the growth and development stage of trees or environmental factors, such as density, temperature, nutrient availability, humidity and weather anomalies. Forests in the tropics absorb the most carbon dioxide, where growth occurs most rapidly and vegetation reaches larger sizes.

In Europe, forests account for almost 44 percent of the of the continent’s surface and absorb 7 percent. annualCO2 emissions. Current knowledge provides an opportunity to increase this value, but, scientists say, planting trees alone is not enough – changes in the overall approach to forests are needed, including modification of forest management.

Tree planting? Yes, but you need to change the focus

Scientists agree that planting trees is a good initiative, provided it is well thought out. According to them, the afforestation scheme needs changes that will lead to an increase in biodiversity. Ultimately, such measures will increase the efficiency of carbon sequestration, as well as provide other valuable environmental benefits.

According to a recent analysis by Oxford researchers, large-scale tree monocultures, despite their high economic value, are of little use to the biosphere, and even harmful. Moreover, in terms ofCO2 sequestration, they can be counterproductive.

Researchers say explicitly that in the context of massive afforestation, attention should be paid to other forest ecosystem services not directly related to carbon, pointing to aspects such as biodiversity, water cycle regulation and soil conservation. According to the article’s authors, they deserve more attention from those responsible for planting trees and from bodies with a decisive voice in natural resource management.

A lush forest ecosystem is more resilient than a tree monoculture

A single species of trees planted in rows, a lack of vertical structure and a heavily uniform landscape means low biodiversity in such areas. In opposition is the abundance of natural multi-species forests. It is the multiplicity of species and complexity of such ecosystems that makes these forests much stronger and better able to withstand environmental stressors such as fires, droughts and pathogens. In addition, single-species plantations of some trees have a self-limiting effect – they can disrupt the local water cycle or acidify soils, with destructive effects on neighboring ecosystems as well.

In their analysis, the researchers conclude that it makes much more sense than planting trees in the form of monocultures to take measures that allow multi-species forest ecosystems to develop naturally through succession. They also point out that changes in forest management are needed, including not only a move away from single-species plantings, but also special attention to species diversity and vertical structure, and abandoning logging that completely exposes the forest floor.

According to the researchers, such measures will increase the level ofCO2 absorptionand make forests more resilient to increasingly frequent hydrological and meteorological extremes, while ensuring the continuity of timber harvesting.

Planting trees as a way to slow climate change – yes or no?

The planting of trees has involved the governments of many countries, as well as a host of companies and organizations primarily focused on profit. According to the researchers, these measures should be deeply revised.

Oxford scientists, in a recent article, warn of the harmfulness of monocultures, pointing out that they contribute to a decline in biodiversity, destabilize local environmental conditions, and negatively affect surrounding ecosystems.

For action to slow climate change to be most effective, it is necessary to recognize the forest as a complex ecosystem whose value is determined by a range of functions, not just the amount of timber harvested.

The researchers also point out that many factors influence theCO2 absorption capacity of forests, making it difficult to estimate their true potential in this regard. They unanimously conclude that extensive empirical research is needed to revise current knowledge based on theoretical models and to compareCO2 absorption efficiencies Between different communities.