In a cavernous theater lit up with the inexperienced shapes of camels and palms at COP28 in Dubai, ecologist Thomas Crowther, former chief scientific adviser for the United Nations’ Trillion Timber Marketing campaign, was doing one thing he by no means would have anticipated a couple of years in the past: begging environmental ministers to cease planting so many timber.
Mass plantations aren’t the environmental resolution they’re presupposed to be, Crowther argued when he took the ground on December 9 for one of many summit’s “Nature Day” occasions. The potential of newly created forests to attract down carbon is commonly overstated. They are often dangerous to biodiversity. Above all, they’re actually damaging when used, as they usually are, as avoidance offsets— “as an excuse to keep away from chopping emissions,” Crowther stated.
The recognition of planting new timber is an issue—not less than partly—of Crowther’s personal making. In 2019, his lab at ETH Zurich found that the Earth had room for a further 1.2 trillion timber, which, the lab’s analysis claimed, may suck down as a lot as two-thirds of the carbon that people have traditionally emitted into the ambiance. “This highlights world tree restoration as our best local weather change resolution so far,” the research stated. Crowther subsequently gave dozens of interviews to that impact.
This seemingly straightforward local weather resolution sparked a tree-planting craze by firms and leaders desirous to burnish their inexperienced credentials with out truly chopping their emissions, from Shell to Donald Trump. It additionally provoked a squall of criticism from scientists, who argued that the Crowther research had vastly overestimated the land appropriate for forest restoration and the quantity of carbon it may draw down. (The research authors later corrected the paper to say tree restoration was solely “some of the efficient” options, and will suck down at most one-third of the atmospheric carbon, with massive uncertainties.)
Crowther, who says his message was misinterpreted, put out a extra nuanced paper final month, which exhibits that preserving present forests can have a better local weather impression than planting timber. He then introduced the outcomes to COP28 to “kill greenwashing” of the sort that his earlier research appeared to encourage—that’s, utilizing unreliable proof on the advantages of planting timber as an excuse to maintain on emitting carbon.
“Killing greenwashing doesn’t imply cease investing in nature,” he says. “It means doing it proper. It means distributing wealth to the Indigenous populations and farmers and communities who’re dwelling with biodiversity.”