by Jack Dini
June 18, 2021
Treehugger / Getty Images
Forests are essential to life on Earth.
They provide a home to
three-quarters of the world's plants and animals, soak up carbon
dioxide, and provide food, fuels and medicines.
The world's great
forests have long been recognized as the lungs of the earth.
They fix carbon and produce oxygen.
So, two items should come as a
According to a recent assessment there are over three trillion
trees on earth. The figure is more than seven times as high as the
previous best estimate, which counted around 400 billion at most.
An area of forest the size of France has regrown naturally across
the world in the last 20 years. The restored forests have the
potential to soak up the equivalent of 5.9 gigatones (Gt) of carbon
dioxide - more than the annual emissions of the US, according to
conservation groups. 1
Other encouraging forest news:
The Atlantic Forest in Brazil gives reason for hope, with an area
roughly the size of the Netherlands having regrown since 2000.
In the boreal
forests of northern Mongolia, 1.2 million hectares of forest
have regenerated in the last 20 years, while other
regeneration hotspots include central Africa and the boreal
forests of Canada. 2
An international team has identified two areas in China where the
scale of carbon dioxide absorption by new forests has been
underestimated. Taken together, these areas account for a little
over 35 percent of China's entire land carbon sink. 3
We often hear about the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Yet
what was deforested last year was less than 0.3 percent of the
Brazilian forest left standing.
Now does it still sound
like an incredibly vast amount? 4
Protecting existing forests and planting new ones are surely good
things to do. However, some scientists say we must not place too
much faith in trees to save us.
In particular, last year one
research group claimed we can plant a trillion extra trees and
remove a quarter of the carbon dioxide currently in the air. These
figures have been widely criticized as overhyped and unreliable.
Trees will definitely help us slow climate change, but they will not
reverse it on their own. 5
1. W Crowther et al.,
"Mapping tree density at a global scale,"
Nature,2015: DOI: 10.1038/nature 14967
2. Helen Briggs, "Forests the size of France regrown
since 2000, study suggests," bbc.com, May 11, 2021
3. Jing Wang et al., "Large
Chinese land carbon sink estimated from atmospheric carbon
dioxide data," nature.com, October 28, 2020
4. Joakin Book,
"Playing fast and loose with numbers," aier.org,
April 22, 2021
5. Michael Marshall, "Planting trees doesn't
always help with climate change," bbc.com, May 26, 2020