The number of trees planted each year across the world (the equivalent of 32 trees planted every second) to compensate deforestation or to mitigate climate change.

Reforestation benefits

Reforestation is the reconstitution of a forest-like ecosystem and consists of replanting trees meanwhile restoring the biodiversity (fauna, flora and microorganisms).

Reforestation positive effects to the planet and people are well known. Reforestation is an effective way to fight against global warming because trees efficiently capture carbon dioxide, especially during their maturity phase. By destroying forests, huge amounts of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. And as we all know, CO2 is one of the main contributors to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. In addition, thanks to their roots, trees help retain moisture and therefore limit the effects of drought and soil erosion. The absorbed water evaporates with the sun and creates water vapor which promotes cloud formation and generates precipitation.The link between deforestation, climate change and increased natural disasters is obvious.In addition, trees represent the habitat of many animals, provide wood and many other useful products for food or other industries such as coffee or rubber. And let’s not forget their economic role. According to Fao, in a study titled “Forests, People and Wildlife: Challenges for a Common Future”, goods and services provided by forests are worth several billion dollars. Forests enable communities of loggers to survive all over the world and provide a cultural and often spiritual dimension that should not be overlooked.Considering these many benefits, it is not surprising that reforestation is a priority for major international organizations in the area of environmental protection. For exemple, The Trillion Tree Campaign has been announced at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos and aims to plant one trillion trees worldwide by the end of the decade (source here). 

Despite all these large-scale initiatives, we often question ourselves about the effectiveness of reforestation projects.

The decline in forests in south america

Healing while stopping destruction

First of all, before thinking about reforestation, it is worth considering deforestation.

Reforestation is about planting trees where a forest has been previously destroyed. Forests are disappearing at an appalling rate, mainly due to a strong agricultural pressure (which is worsening with the increase in the world’s population) and logging. Fossil fuels extraction, with the drilling and infrastructure to extract these energies, are also at the origin of forests destruction. Simply put: the best solution for our planet would be to maintain forest ecosystems rather than destroying them to rebuild them later.

To compensate their negative impact, polluting multinationals often implement massive reforestation campaigns. They may then pretend do good while omitting to mention their bad deeds. A questionable behavior from an ethical and public standpoint. The massive tree-planting campaigns implemented by all governments are also widely publicized. Although reforestation can be an effective tool, we must be careful about the use that is made of it. Reforestation must not turn into a tool for clearing carbon emissions activities. Therefore, we believe that reforestation must be imperatively paired with respectable actions elsewhere (even if more expensive sometimes). 

Beyond governments and companies (in) actions, everyone can act on a daily basis to limit deforestation through simple actions to adopt (by choosing the train rather than the car, by changing consumption habits, by using brands that do not use palm oil, by limiting or stopping meat consumption, by choosing products with FSC-type labels). More than 20% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to forest degradation from human activities according to WWF. Read more information on Greenhouse gas emissions here. 

Therefore, it is also essential to pair compensation with better behaviours to reduce our activities negative impact.

Reforestation limits

Let’s now explore reforestation limits. First, timing is not in line with the climate change emergency: reforestation is not immediately effective. Young trees do not fix carbon well (to do it well, it may take at least 20 years on average, depending on the species) while CO2 emissions must be reduced now. A tree planted today is not the same as a century-old variety in a primary forest or mangrove. 

Storage capacity depends on many other parameters such as species, size, climate and soil … Some trees grow faster and absorb CO2 more quickly. However, in some cases, planting such trees may be against the local biodiversity and thus are not always beneficial to environment. Planting fast-growing species such as pines or eucalyptus, which store very quickly, can even trigger harmful effects on biodiversity (e.g. the land drying out). In addition, it’s important to point out that monoculture plantations, which are the most common practices in reforestation projects, do not restore the rich ecosystems destroyed through deforestation.

Finally, mass replanting programs are not effective if poorly managed. Take the case of Ethiopia, which is beating recors of planted trees. As this article points out, of the 4 billion trees planted between 2000 and 2015, only 20 to 30% may survive over the time.

The implication of communities is crucial: projects  shall be effectively designed considering inhabitants and the local ecosystem. Working with local populations is essential, as well as selecting the right (and local) species; eventually considering property rights is fundamental to guarantee forests sustainable management. Local communities are the main stakeholders regarding their forests. Therefore, projects must be designed together with them, in line with their constrains and interests.

What to do, what makes sense?

We believe that reforestation can make sense if carefully paired with biodiversity goals. The ecosystem understanding is fundamental: reforestation shall be done carefully with the right tree species. Of course, beside reforestation, stopping deforestation should be the most important priority.

NooS iis fully aware of reforestation stakes and is fully committed to engage the most relevent reforestation projects. Thus we’re partnering with Eden Reforestation for two wonderful projects, in Kenya and in Madagascar. This trusty and highly-efficient impact organization offers real guarantees to donors. Indeed Eden has developed a unique approach based on the healthy forests restoration while providing fair jobs to local communities. Million of trees are thus planted every year.

Photography credit – Cover: Dave Herring via Unsplash