The Guardian view on the climate emergency: forests can help to save us | Editorial

Restoring and enlarging the world’s woodlands won’t be enough on its own but it’s an essential start

There is so much bad news about the climate emergency that it is easy to sink into a heatstruck daze and suppose that we can do nothing to prevent catastrophic global change over the next 50 years. This would be a mistake. There are still things to be done which will diminish future damage and – more hopefully still – undo the effects of some of our past crimes against the environment.

Research has just shown that there is far more land in the world on which trees can be planted than anyone had supposed. This matters. There is no doubt that reforestation must form part of any strategy to diminish the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and so avert the kind of temperature rise that will cause a civilisational breakdown as the seas rise and the deserts spread on land. The new estimates show that with a truly heroic effort, it would be possible to plant or allow to regrow enough trees around the world to remove from the atmosphere two-thirds of the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities. The figures involved are boggling: a trillion trees, covering in total an area as large as the US and China combined. The total cost is estimated at $300bn, a figure to make even a Bezos blink. But the prize is almost beyond price. Without the sequestration of carbon the world will bust through 1.5C of warming and head for much worse. Planting trees is by far the least expensive and most practicable way available at present to do this.

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