Is Planting Trees Enough?

7th May 2020

There are so many initiatives planting trees. You may have come across some of them – Ecosia, 8 Billion Trees, Trillion Trees… The headline numbers seem to go up each time.

As a climate activist, I’m thrilled that people invest in reforestation and re-creation of natural habitats for animals. But I wanted to take a step back and think about the bold statement from a 2019 study in the Science journal that states that planting trees is “the most effective climate change solution to date.”

I wish it was that simple.

Planting trees is a good solution for capturing some of the carbon that already is in the atmosphere. But we have to remember that the main cause of climate change is burning fossil fuels.

Globally, we release 152 million tonnes of man-made warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day. That’s the equivalent of about 500,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

Think about it for a second and imagine this…

500,000 times a day.

Planting trees, even as many as a trillion, will never absorb so much pollution and solve the climate crisis.


Because trees don’t grow in days. It takes years, if not decades, to have a fully grown tree capable of capturing some carbon from the atmosphere. That’s why I really like this Chinese proverb

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.

The second best time is now.”

Apart from transportation, shipping, and plastic industries, fossil fuels also provide about 80% of the energy powering the global economy. Not because it’s the cheapest solution (some of the renewable energy solutions, like wind and solar, are already cheaper), but because we’re used to it. The entire global economy is built on fossil fuels and it would take a lot of energy to change. But it could also provide huge economic and employment opportunities.

As stated in The New York Times’ article,

“the only way to stop this planet from overheating is through political, economic, technological and social solutions that end the use of fossil fuels.”

Our focus must shift from thinking about the climate crisis as a “global carbon” problem to the root of that problem, a “carbon pollution” problem.

Planting millions or even trillions of trees would slow down the climate warming but it cannot absorb the amount of carbon pollution that is being added to the atmosphere every day.

Planting trees should be happening all around the world to restore natural habitats for animals, to keep water in the ground and prevent landslide, and, yes, to also help solve the climate crisis. But it shouldn’t work in a way that companies can do dirty business and then claim how sustainable they are because they planted X trees somewhere.

We cannot have it both ways.

It’s tempting to say “let’s plant some trees” and forget about the climate crisis. We cannot continue burning fossil fuels like we have done over the past few decades. Instead, businesses and individuals must take full responsibility for the existing climate crisis, regulate their fossil carbon pollution, and opt for green energy, sustainable solutions, and circular economy.

As we’ve seen over the past few months with coronavirus, people are capable of incredible things. We can come up with innovative solutions and create a greener, healthier, and more prosperous future.

Planting trees can be a part of the solution, but it cannot be the only one.