Why the world needs a trillion more trees!
Six. Three. One.
We used to have about 6 trillion trees on earth. Tragically, humans have cut down half, so only 3 trillion trees remain. In a perfect world, we would bring all these lost trees back. But we also need land for humans to live and grow food. So we cannot restore all 3 trillion lost trees.
But there is good news: recent research shows that we may be able to restore up to 1 trillion trees without competing with agriculture and settlements.
But that’s not all! Restoring forests achieves much more than just tackling the climate crisis. By ensuring that these forests recover this helps us avoid the loss of plant and animal species who call these forests home, especially when forests house 50% of all life on the planet. Regenerating forests can also improve local water quality and reduce erosion.
Trees can help improve livelihoods
Additionally, bringing back trees can help build wealth in the countries of the global south. The majority of the carbon capture potential of forests exists in Latin America, Africa and southern Asia. Restoring forests in these regions has many potential benefits to society, including the creation of new economies based specifically on making restoration happen. This may lead to the generation of billions of dollars in income for national and local economies and small landholder farmers. Plant-for-the-Planet's reforestation work on the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico alone created jobs for 121 people.
When trees are planted in between crops on farmland in specific ways this can increase the income of farmers by increasing crop yields. This is referred to as Agroforestry. Around 1.6 billion people rely on forest resources for their livelihood and around 1.2 billion of them use trees on farms to generate food and money.
Why the world needs
a trillion more trees?
None of this means that we should never harvest and use trees. 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the production of concrete and steel for the construction industry. By building with wood instead, we can avoid these emissions. On top of that, large parts of the carbon absorbed by a tree remain in its wood once it has been harvested and converted into a chair or house, and this carbon can be stored for centuries.
Of course, we should not harvest trees from old-growth forests. But when we regrow forests, sustainable harvesting some of the trees is an important part of solving the climate crisis.
Bringing back these trillion trees may be a lot easier than you might think. Because forests can recover on their own we don’t have to plant all of these trees ourselves. In many areas, all we have to do is to stop standing in the way and nature will plant millions of trees for us. This is usually the case when the area was just deforested, when the soil still contains a lot of seeds and there is a lot of forest nearby. However, sometimes landscapes are so thoroughly degraded that the only way to bring forests back is to plant trees. Because of this, it is important to carefully consider which restoration approaches will be the most effective in each area so we can restore forests (and a trillion trees!) as fast as possible.
In all the excitement about the power of one trillion new trees, let’s not forget how important it is to protect the three trillion that currently exist. A protected tree is better than a newly planted tree. It takes decades for a new tree to capture the amount of CO2 stored by an old tree. We still lose about 10 billion trees every year. That’s a bit more than all the trees in Germany.