Planting trees could undermine the fight against the climate crisis, scientists warn

Planting trees could undermine the fight against the climate crisis, scientists warn

Attention has turned towards so-called nature-based solutions to cutting emissions as national targets to reach net zero become more ambitious and organisations seek affordable ways to reduce their carbon footprint. The priority, he added, must be working to reduce global emissions. Planting trees — which can generate the carbon offsets organisations use to compensate for polluting — is a growing area of focus and attracts investors hoping to develop new revenue streams.

The right trees must be planted in the right places in order not to destroy local ecosystems, said the report, adding that climate change can “drastically reduce the mitigation potential of forests, due to an increase in extreme events like fires, insects and pathogens”. The recent focus by companies and governments on planting trees to help absorb carbon is not a cure-all, the scientists warned.

Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the workshop that produced the report, said relying on natural solutions to warming was “a vision that may not come true if we let climate change go on . . . even large ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest are progressively losing their ability to support mitigation”. “Biodiversity loss and climate change are both driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other,” the researchers said. “Neither will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together.”

Planting single species crops that are used as the fuel for bioenergy — renewable energy that produces heat and power — is “detrimental to ecosystems when deployed at very large scales,” the researchers said. Yet bioenergy as a replacement for fossil fuels is being written into emissions reduction blueprints by groups including the influential International Energy Agency and the UK’s Climate Change Committee, which advises policymakers. Recommended

Yet the two strands of climate and nature are often not considered together — with potentially dangerous consequences, the scientists said.  Meanwhile, a crisis in biodiversity is rising up the political agenda. The G7 has pledged to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s land and oceans, and promised this month to “embed” biodiversity loss considerations into economic and financial decision-making.

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