Forests are having their moment. Because trees can vacuum carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away in wood and soil, governments and businesses are embracing efforts to fight climate change using trees.
Nations have pledged to plant or restore forests over a combined area larger than India. One corporate-backed initiative has secured pledges to conserve or restore 855 million trees by 2030. Even President Donald Trump, an ardent climate change skeptic, endorsed a trillion-tree planting initiative at the World Economic Forum in January; a companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February.
Scientists agree that new trees and forests can, in theory, cool the planet. But many have warned that the enthusiasm and money flowing to forest-based climate solutions threaten to outpace the science.
Two papers published this week seek to put such efforts on a firmer footing. One study quantifies how much carbon might be absorbed globally by allowing forests cleared for farming or other purposes to regrow. The other calculates how much carbon could be sequestered by forests in the United States if they were fully “stocked” with newly planted trees. Each strategy has promise, the studies suggest, but also faces perils.
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