Our Best Climate Bet – Forests!

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Our Best Climate Bet – Forests!

New Zealand landscape

New Zealand landscape.

I grew up in New Zealand, where the landscape has been dramatically transformed by man, mainly for the purpose of grazing about 30 million sheep (there are still 7x more sheep than people in New Zealand!) The contrast between the endless monotone grassy hills and the few pockets of remaining lush native rainforest stood out to me as a young child, and have shaped my journey ever since.

With an interest in preserving the world’s last remaining forests, I first studied Environmental Science and Public Policy as an undergraduate, and then, learning of the growing perils of climate change, I pursued a masters degree in Carbon Management. I have now worked for six years in the climate change field, and earlier this year, was trained by former US Vice President Al Gore as part of his Climate Reality Leadership Corps. During this time what I have learned is that there are many solutions to climate change, but despite years of research, the cheapest, most effective carbon sequestration technology we have is still the unglamorous, simple…tree! (this technology, when brought to scale, is a forest :-)).

Globally we have at least one billion hectares of degraded land in need of restoration. One thousand billion trees could be planted in these hectares. These trees would absorb ten billion tons of carbon emissions every year. That may sound like a lot of trees, but it’s not a pie-in-the-sky goal. The Chinese alone planted 2.7 billion trees in 2009 as a contribution to the UNEP-Billion Tree Campaign, and recently India planted 66 million trees in just 12 hours. If everyone on Earth were to plant 150 trees over the next few years we would reach the goal!

We have done so much damage, however, that climate change cannot be stopped just by planting trees, even if we were to achieve the one thousand billion goal. However, planting trees provides an important time buffer so that we have a better chance of getting our act together and overcoming our fossil-fuel addiction. Organizations such as Plant for the Planet, Trees for the Future, Tree Sisters and many, many others are working hard toward this goal. Global campaigns such as the Bonn Challenge and Africa 100 are pushing our governments to take action.

I first became convinced of the enormous importance of ecosystem restoration after watching John D. Liu’s Green Gold. Restoring our degraded agricultural lands with a diverse combination of trees and crops seems to be the answer not only for climate change but for reversing desertification, water scarcity, hunger and poverty. Recent research by Project Drawdown emphasizes the importance of food and land-use in particular in the climate puzzle. Of the top 20 readily available solutions to climate change ranked by Project Drawdown, 12 are food or land-use related. It’s clear our governments need to give as much weight (or more) to incentivizing agriculture and forest solutions as they do to renewable energy.

As a next step on my journey, I look forward to supporting the exemplary efforts of Ecosystem Restoration Camps by becoming a member of the cooperative, and hopefully a volunteer at the Spanish camp later this year.


  • Lovely piece! Thank you. Dr Christine Jones says if the farms of just Australia grew their soil carbon by 1 little percent, all the world’s legacy load of carbon would be sequestered to do it! We are trying to establish perennial grasses which have deep roots and inject carbon deep into the soil through them. Food forests interspersed with cell grazing of perennial pasture seems to be a winning system here in desertifying Western Australia.

  • Summer Montacute says:

    Thanks Bee! Great to hear of the efforts in Western Australia. I just saw this video too which is interesting! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxqBzrx9yIE&feature=youtu.be Also check out: http://soilsolution.org Best wishes to you!

  • Justin R-Sondergaard says:

    Thank you Summer. I like your positive statement “that there are many solutions to climate change”. I, on the other hand, am a little more cautious. I would like to believe that there are many `approaches´ to tackling climate change, each with their own context-dependent and often unique solutions, that we can take as a way for dealing with the complexity of climate change as a wicked problem. For me, climate action projects, such as tree planting and land restoration, must be included with broader adaptation processes, such as institutional coordination, as systemic approaches for the recovery of ecosystem functioning, which, again in my opinion, achieves quicker results than trying to reverse climate change. Justin.

  • Summer Montacute says:

    Thanks Justin! I totally agree that restoration efforts should keep in mind both climate change mitigation AND adaptation. It’s definitely important to look at the bigger picture…for example, the species you plant should be resilient to projected climate change impacts for the area, and also should be useful in increasing resiliency of local people through flood protection (mangroves), provision of food, fiber etc… Thanks for making that important point!

  • Justin R-Sondergaard says:

    Good chatting to you Summer. I hope we can do more around these important issues. Regards, Justin

  • John Dennis Liu says:

    Dear Summer: Lovely to see your piece. Keep planting and keep writing. I hope we can talk around the campfire in an Ecosystem Restoration Camp somewhere in the world in the very near future. Be well and happy, John

  • Summer Montacute says:

    Thank you John for your continuing inspiration! I hope to see you for more chats around a campfire sometime soon too 🙂

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