Climate Change Silver Bullet From Massively Improved Tree Planting

Carbon Brief has estimates of how much carbon could be stored using various methods from now to 2100. The potential of reforestation had an economic estimated limit of 76 billion tons of CO2 but a total potential of 253 billion tons.

However, optimizing the species of trees selected could boost this by 10 to 100 times.
Optimizing the planting technique with drones could increase the planting speed by 150 times and cost by 10 times.
Fast growth trees would allow for lumber harvesting to repeat the sequestration every 10-30 years.
China already has tree-planting programs at scale. Optimizing these solutions would boost the potential of trees to offset all of human climate change emissions.

100 million hectares planted every year and harvested every ten years.
250 tons of CO2 per hectare per year.
This would be 25 billion tons of CO2 per year.

If the Empress Splendor and other fast-growth trees could be modified to reach maturity in five years then this would offset 50 billion tons per year.

If the land set aside over ten years was increased to 2 billion hectares then 200 million hectares could be planted every and harvested every ten years. This would offset 50 billion tons per year.

We would only get more land for the carbon tree offsetting program after fully planting and managing the 1 billion hectares of new forests. Then we would ramp up from 100 million to 200 million hectares per year. There are currently 3 trillion trees and cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface. This is just over 4 billion hectares. Another billion hectares of less productive forests could then be converted to the tree carbon offset program.

Empress splendor trees will not grow in every suitable location so we will need to breed or GMO more productive trees or plants for carbon sequestration.

Farming could also be made more productive. China has 4 million acres of greenhouses and greenhouses can be up to 30 times more productive than open farming. 100 million hectares of greenhouses could replace 3 billion hectares of regular farmland. This could free up 1 billion hectares for the tree carbon offset program.

The cost of the tree program would be the land, the planting, the maintenance and the harvesting. It would have cost offsets from lumber. However, abundant lumber would drive the cost of lumber lower.

10 to 100 Times Better With the Right Species of Trees

The Carbon Brief estimate of afforestation and reforestation assumes trees can sequester CO2 at a rate of 3.7 tonnes per hectare per year, and comes with an associated cost of $20-100 per tonne.

Satellite analysis finds that 1 billion hectares of land are available for tree planting.

A mix of trees species could double the Carbon Brief estimate of new forest sequestration to 149 tons per hectare.

While each acre of most tree species can capture and store 1.1 to 9.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, an acre of empress trees can absorb 103 tons per year. Each hectare is 2.47 acres. A hectare of empress trees could absorb 254 tones of CO2 per hectare.

Rapid growth of Empress Splendor trees means that trees could be cut down and the wood used and stored. New trees could be planted. This would mean you could constantly sequester more carbon at the maximum 10-30 year rates of the tree species.

The wide growth rings of an empress tree stump at maturity. An empress can grow 10 to 20 feet tall in its first year, which helps it store carbon more efficiently than other tree species.PHOTOGRAPHER: CHUCK HEMARD FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Drone Planting 150 times Faster and 10 Times Cheaper than Current Methods

Part of the economic limitation is based upon the cost of tree planting. The Carbon Brief did not consider the new tree planting with Biocarbon Engineering drone planting.

Currently, tree planting is mostly done by direct hand-planting, which is accurate but extremely time-consuming. Aerial planting via helicopters is effective over large areas but results in much lower survival rates. BioCarbon Engineering’s drone-enabled technology fills the gap, planting seeds with both speed and accuracy across diverse landscapes.

The BCE system uses satellite and drone-collected data to determine the best location to plant each tree. The planting drones fire a biodegradable seedpod into the ground with pressurized air at each predetermined position at 120 seedpods per minute. The seedpods are filled with a germinated seed, nutrients, and other vital components. These penetrate the earth, and, activated by moisture, grow into healthy trees.

Two operators equipped with 10 drones can plant 400,000 trees per day. Just 400 teams could plant 10 billion trees each year, with the capability to scale to tens of billions of trees annually. The fully automated and highly scalable BCE solution plants 150 times faster and 4-10 times cheaper than current methods.

BioCarbon Engineering (BCE), a UK company with the ambition to plant 500 billion trees by 2060 through the use of drones. Every year, 15 billion trees are destroyed from natural and anthropogenic causes. Despite US$50 billion a year spent on replanting, there remains an annual net loss of 6 billion trees. Governments have made commitments to restore 350 million hectares of degraded land—equivalent to an area the size of India, which could accommodate around 300 billion trees—by 2030.

In the past decade alone, China invested more than US$ 100 billion into six key forestry programs. The aims of these programs are to reduce environmental degradation, to create green spaces, to supply the enormous demand for forest products and to conserve biodiversity. Their scale is globally unique. The ‘Three-North’ Shelterbelt Program alone resulted in the planting of approximately 50 billion trees. Its aim is to build a 4500 km long wall of trees through the Gobi desert by 2050 to reduce sand storms. The Grain for Green Program aims to convert crops to forests on steep slopes to reduce erosion and to increase the provision of forest products. With a total planned investment of US$ 40 billion and 40–60 million target households, it is regarded as the world’s largest payment for ecosystem services scheme. The focus of China is thus on large-scale landscape manipulation and afforestation—often with single and sometimes exotic species, which may not always be adapted to local conditions

Where to plant the trees according to a satellite analysis by Tom Crowther.

China’s key forestry programs
China’s six key forestry programs cover 97% of China’s counties and have a combined afforestation aim of 760,000 km2. Their scale is globally and historically unparalleled.

The Key Shelterbelt Development Programs (1978 – 2050) comprise several sub-programs including the Three North Shelterbelt Program (TNSP), the Shelterbelt Development along the Middle and Upper Reaches of the Yangtze River, the Coastal Shelterbelt Development Program, and the Farmland Shelterbelt Network in the Plains Areas. The TNSP covers 42% of the Chinese territory across 13 provinces in China’s NW, N and NE regions. Its main aim is to reduce and control desertification and erosion in N China by planting shelterbelt forests around farmlands and pastures, and afforesting barren land. Between 2001 and 2010 275,000 km2 have been afforested and tree coverage in the region has reportedly increased from 5% to >10%. This has included a large citizen participation component with citizens planting a total of 66 billion trees since 1978. The total planned afforestation by 2050 is 356,000 km2. Investments between 2002 and 2006 have totaled RMB 60 billion. The shelterbelts are between ~250-550 m wide, with a fence along the perimeter, and the vegetation is planted in a chessboard pattern.

The Grain for Green Program (2000 – 2020 with previous pilot phase) aims to convert croplands and barren land to forests in environmentally fragile areas (e.g. steep slopes) to reduce erosion, control flooding and provide forest resources in 25 provinces in central and western China. The converted lands are generally located in environmentally marginal areas (e.g. on sandy soils) where yields are low. The program resulted in total afforestation of 248,600 km2 between 1999 and 2012 and targeted 32 million households. Investments (grain and cash subsidies paid to farmers) totaled RMB 180.54 billion between 2000 and 2009. In 2007 a decision was made to increase the total investment into the program to RMB 430 billion.

The Natural Forest Protection Program (2000 – 2020) aims to protect and rehabilitate natural forests and to increase forest resources. The program covers 17 provinces along the Upper reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, in China’s NE and in Inner Mongolia. Between 2001 and 2010 44,000 km2 of new forest was established; 120,000 km2 of land was set aside for natural regeneration; over 1 Mio km2 of forest was taken into management and protection; and over 600,000 displaced forester workers have been re-settled. Commercial logging in natural forests has been banned within key state forest areas, and timber harvesting has consequently been reduced from 18.24 Mio m3 in 1997 to 10.99 Mio m3 in NE China and Inner Mongolia [5]. Total investments between 2000 and 2010 were RMB 118.6 billion, and another RMB 244 billion has been allocated for the 2nd program phase between 2010 and 2020.

The Sandification Control Program in Beijing and Tianjin Vicinity (2001 – 2023) aims to reduce desertification and dust storms in Beijing and surrounding areas through various means, including 52,000 km2 of afforestation and 20,000 km2 of grass establishment between 2001 and 20102, with a total investment of RMB 21.84 billion. The program covers five provinces.

The Wildlife Protection and Nature Reserve Development Program (2001 – 2050) implemented in 32 provinces aims to conserve endangered species and habitats through the expansion of China’s nature reserves network to a coverage of 1.55 Mio km2, or ~16% of China’s total land area. Investments totaled RMB 1.57 billion between 2001 and 2004.

The Fast-Growing and High-Yielding Timber Base Construction Program in Key Areas (2001 – 2015) aims to reduce the timber supply shortage. It covers 18 provinces in the east of China (with total annual rainfall of ≥400 mm). The target is to plant 130,000 km2 of fast-growing and high-yielding timber to provide 133 Mio m3 timber annually – equivalent to 36% of China’s commercial timber consumption and almost sufficient to balance the current demand-supply gap of c. 150 Mio m3. Until 2007 49,000 km2 had already been established. While all other key forestry programs are government-led and mainly government-financed, major financing for this program comes from the commercial sector. Total investments in 2004 were RMB 205.6 million.

SOURCES- Biocarbon Engineering, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences – China’s fight to halt tree cover loss, Journal Science, Carbon Brief, Mongo Bay, PNAS, Natural Conference of Legislatures – The Role of Forests in Carbon Sequestration and Storage, NPR – You May Be Surprised To Learn Which 2 Countries Are Making The Globe A Lot Greener, Bloomberg
Written By Brian Wang,