We cannot solve climate change without forests to help capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions made by humans. Forests absorb up to a third of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for the planet’s warming. So planting more trees affords us more of a chance to deepen the “carbon sink,” which is the ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
With planting, we must be wise custodians of the mature forests that are already serving to reduce the amount of CO2 in the air, as well as storing vast reserves of carbon. These forests are struggling to adjust to rapid changes in our climate.
Tree rings, the layers are grown each year, provide a record of how trees are affected by changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, and through them and other methods, we can see that climate change is weakening – and even killing – our forests at an alarming speed.
From high-intensity wildfires and declining forest health from pests and pollution, the effects of climate change are worsening the threats to forests and reducing forest productivity.
This is a pivotal moment for our forests and the health of our planet.
American Forests, as the nation’s first forest conservation organization, is taking charge and leads a 37 member Forest-Climate Working Group (FCWG), the nation’s only sector-wide coalition working on forest-based carbon mitigation. Our President, Jad Daley, founded the Forest-Climate Working Group in 2007 and has served as co-Chair since that time. FCWG represents a diversity of interests across the forest industry: from landowners to forest products companies, to the government, academia, and conservation groups. FCWG helps states identify how to use forests as a climate solution, this is achieved through their new toolkit.
Reforestation efforts in large-scale rural forest landscapes, like our American ReLeaf program, are the single largest pathway to greater carbon capture. These efforts maximize carbon sequestration and long-term forest resilience.
Our work with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science is an unprecedented effort to identify how forest restoration and sustainable management can trap more carbon in forest soils – the single largest potential pool of carbon in forests. This will fill a longstanding gap in understanding of potential carbon capture in forests.
Tree planting in cities, through our Community ReLeaf programs, also helps absorb carbon, and creates even greater carbon savings by cooling the surrounding environment, which reduces energy costs. American Forests’ urban tree planting is carefully targeted to urban heat islands, where this cooling benefit will be at its highest. Trees properly placed can cool the air the same as 10 room-sized air conditioners running 20 hours a day, reducing air conditioning needs by 30 percent. In neighborhoods with more tree canopy, air quality improves by as much as 15 percent, reducing the incidence and severity of asthma, especially in children.
We are proud to report that in August 2018, American Forests became the first group to commit to the U.S. Climate Alliance’s Natural and Working Lands Challenge, a pledge to secure natural and working lands as a resilient net sink of carbon.
Through all of this, we have learned one thing for sure: the world needs more trees and healthy forests if we are to address climate change and create a habitable world for future generations.