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A trillion trees could stabilize global warming

A trillion trees could stabilize global warming

17-01-2020 | Stunning statistics
Planting a trillion trees would be enough to stop global warming from escalating, studies have found.
  • Chris Berkouwer
    Chris
    Berkouwer
    Equity Analyst

Speed read

  • One trillion trees would need an area the size of the US
  • Buying the land and converting it would cost USD 300 billion
  • Energy companies are joining reforestation carbon sink plans

Such a tree planting campaign would require 9 million square kilometers of land, an area the size of the United States, although this would be spread in land pockets across the world. The tree planting could be targeted at deserts, wastelands, and areas where the soil has been degraded due to over-intensive agriculture, the UN has said.

What has happened?

The UN has identified about 2 billion hectares (20 million square kilometers) of land around the world that has been degraded by misuse, overgrazing or deforestation. Satellites have pinpointed about 900 million hectares (9 million square kilometers) of this land which could be realistically restored.

The program was announced at the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in New Delhi in September 2019. Some 196 countries plus the European Union agreed to a declaration that each country would adopt measures needed to restore unproductive land by 2030.

Such a campaign to buy the necessary land and then convert it to natural forest would cost about USD 300 billion, according to a separate UN report. That is no small amount, as it equates to the GDP of Chile, or put another way, the amount the world spends on military arms every two months.

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Why is it important?

Scientists have calculated that reforestation on that scale would be enough to absorb 750 billion tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to all the CO2 placed in the atmosphere by human activity for the past 25 years, according to the journal Science. This could stabilize global warming for up to 20 years, giving the world enough time to scale down carbon emissions.

Decarbonization, either through natural forms such as trees which absorb it, or by simply replacing fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy, is essential to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement. This aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, requiring the world to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Many nations are already taking the lead, such as the Great Wall of Africa project, which has seen millions of hectares of land reclaimed from the Sahara Desert. Kenya’s is separately planning to plant 2 billion trees on 500,000 hectares to restore 10% of its forest. In Asia, China has worked to irrigate deserts in Gansu province to support trees, while India has identified up to 20% of its land – an area the size of France – as recoverable wasteland.

An aerial view of trees planted in a desert in China’s Gansu province. Source: Getty Images

What does it mean for investors?

“Through technological innovation and capital market pressure, energy companies are forced to step up their efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions,” says Chris Berkouwer, Portfolio Manager of Robeco Sustainable Global Stars Equities, which targets companies specializing in decarbonization.

“To that end, carbon sinks are assumed to be a critical piece of the puzzle, primarily through reforestation initiatives. For example, based on targets set by the major European Integrated Energy companies, about 1.5 million acres a year are reforested going forward from 2019, meaning that by 2030, an area bigger than Ireland will have been designated as a carbon sink by the group.”

“Although it’s a double-edged sword, we believe that without the financial muscle of Big Energy, it will be very hard to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets. So, Robeco continues to push them hard to also keep investing in areas such as carbon capture and reforestation.”

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