Why Green Pledges Will Not Create the Natural Forests We Need
Nations around the globe have pledged to increase their forest cover by planting millions of trees. But new research shows much of this growth would be in monoculture plantations that would be quickly cut down and do little to tackle climate change or preserve biodiversity.
Experts agree: Reforesting our planet is one of the great ecological challenges of the 21st century. It is essential to meeting climate targets, the only route to heading off the extinction crisis, and almost certainly the best way of maintaining the planet’s rainfall. It could also boost the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of inhabitants of former forest lands.
The good news is that, even as deforestation continues in many countries, reforestation is under way in many others. From India to Ethiopia, and China to Costa Rica, there are more trees today than there were 30 years ago, saving species, recycling rain, and sucking carbon dioxide from the air. The Bonn Challenge, an international agreement struck eight years ago to add 1.35 million square miles of forests (an area slightly larger than India) to the planet’s land surface by 2030, is on track.
But what kind of forests are they?
A damning assessment published earlier this month in the journal Nature brought bad news. Forest researchers analyzed the small print of government declarations about what kind of forests they planned to create. They discovered that 45 percent of promised new forests will be monoculture plantations of fast-growing trees like acacia and eucalyptus, usually destined for harvesting in double-quick time to make pulp for paper.
Such forests would often decrease biodiversity rather than increase it, and would only ever hold a small fraction of the carbon that could be captured by giving space for natural forests. Another 21 percent of the “reforestation” would plant fruit and other trees on farms as part of agroforestry programs; just 34 percent would be natural forests.
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