Reforestation: Will it help to reverse climate change?
Climate change is one of the biggest threats in this century. Over the last 5 years, the issue that earlier concerned the environment, think tanks, and governments has now started worrying the common people as well. Increasing incidents of bushfires, changes in the conventional weather cycle, and global warming are some of the ways climate change is expressing itself—and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, we need immediate measures to reverse the carbon footprint. One of the most prominent methods is reforestation. While it is good that NGOs, environmental organizations, key environmentalists, and governments have been actively helping in reducing the carbon footprint through reforestation, it is also important to review the efficiency of this solution, understand challenges, and make plans that are sustainable.
Expensive and complex
Two major challenges with reforestation are costing and planning. While it can be argued that the funding issue can be solved due to worldwide awareness about climate change, the planning still remains a challenge. To get the desired results out of reforestation, we need to rely on factors that can neither be predicted accurately nor be controlled (at least in the long term); for instance, weather, harmful pests, and human-induced harm (theft, etc.). Climate change has made these factors all the more unpredictable. Long-term maintenance is another challenge to be tackled. Often the volume almost always affects the value. Often the sheer volume of trees overwhelms the maintenance teams. We haven’t even discussed the time factor; on average, a tree may take up to several years until it produces any significant results.
To get the desired results out of reforestation, it is important to carefully select the right species as our aim is to bring maximum change in the minimum possible time span without forcing things the wrong way.
Generally, plantation companies select fast-growing species like Eucalyptus. It can produce positive results in the short term but may start posing challenges during later stages of its lifecycle. Different species require different types of ecosystems, and introducing them to non-native ecosystems can affect their growth and survival. As such, plantation is generally done on a massive scale; such non-native plants can even have opposite effects like affecting the growth of native plants or usurping their resources/area. It disrupts the years-old ecosystem of a place, thus changing its role in climate change.
It is true that we need immediate solutions but not at the cost of efficiency. However, this timeline can be reduced at later stages, and not the initial stage. For instance, we can study the flora and fauna and overall ecosystem of the area to get a good idea of the plants that can thrive there. Also, it is important to select the native trees that can absorb maximum carbon. So, 4 major criteria for selection would be suitability, sustainability, carbon absorption, and growth period (not just the growth speed and volume).
Ethical questions on using genetically modified trees
Several countries, like China, think that planting Genetically Modified plants can help humans gain better control over reforestation. However, we are yet to observe the long-term impact of GM plants for reforestation. Human intervention may work wonders in commercial farms, but it is ethically questionable to intervene in the natural ecosystem, as our objective is not to give handhold support but just initiating things—planting and maintaining trees through maturity, and then let nature take its course. What works now may not work the same way in the future, and GM trees may start affecting the environment negatively post-maturity.
Using reforestation as a ‘license’ to increase carbon footprint
While some global consumer brands are doing appreciable work in the field of reforestation, many companies are just using reforestation to offset their carbon emissions; they see reforestation as a license for more carbon emissions, thus defeating its very purpose. Others are using reforestation to meet compliance and play the numbers game. So the need of the hour is to take a combined initiative of reforestation and reducing carbon emissions. While practically and commercially it is not possible to eliminate carbon emissions, we should aim for minimizing it as much as possible. Logically reviewing the things proves that both reforestation and controlling carbon emissions should go hand in hand to correctly address the challenge.
Reforestation and Timber Mafia
Timber mafia is always on the lookout for plantation projects near completion to harvest timber in huge quantities. It affects climate change initiatives in multiple ways. First, the very process of cutting trees produces a heavy carbon footprint. Adding to it, the vehicles, production, and other necessary processes further multiply the disadvantages. In a way, it actually encourages the anti-environment groups (wood mafia) to reap the benefits out of the hard work and resources incurred by pro-environment communities/organizations. While ensuring sustainability until adulthood is important, it is equally, if not more important, to continue guarding the area against invaders. The resources and efforts of reforestation projects may get wasted if the area is left unguarded.
Repetition of the same plants
Lack of adequate diversity is another challenge to tackle. Currently, the organizations are buying seeds from commercial seed banks. These banks generally give priority to the commercial value of trees and thus have a limited variety to offer. As a result, a majority of reforestation projects around the globe end up planting only a few species. It imbalances the landscape at a large level, and as we all know, the lack of biodiversity or prominence of specific species can disrupt the entire ecosystem and even risk the native species. One of the solutions can be to invite local communities to collect seeds of native plants in return for incentives. It will not only help in adding native variety of plants but will also encourage local communities to actively help in the reforestation drive.