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Planting 2 billion trees: A natural climate solution

As part of efforts to limit climate change, Canada and many other countries have committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. This goal requires achieving a balance between GHG emissions put into the atmosphere and those removed. While global efforts toward this goal must focus on far-reaching transformations in energy systems and human behaviour, natural climate solutions also have a significant role to play.

The 2018 Special Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests an increase of 1 billion hectares of forest will be necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050. As part of climate actions plans, countries around the world such as the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom have committed to large-scale tree planting efforts.

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The carbon sequestration and storage resulting from planting 2 billion trees will slow the rise of GHG emissions. As well, it will provide a host of co-benefits to communities and the environment, including:

  • Improving air and water quality
  • Restoring wildlife habitat
  • Stabilizing soils
  • Improving physical health and well-being of urban residents
  • Fireproofing neighbourhoods and communities
  • Stimulating local economies

An incremental change with great impact

Canada has committed to planting 2 billion trees by 2030, above and beyond the replanting legally mandated after harvesting, to reduce GHG emissions, make our communities greener, improve human well-being and support biodiversity. Compared to current commercial forest regeneration activities in Canada, this initiative constitutes a 40% annual increase in the number of trees planted in Canada. The total area planted will cover about 1.1 million hectares – about twice the size of Prince Edward Island.

The ultimate goal of planting 2 billion trees is to create permanent additions to Canada’s forests and increase tree cover outside of forests to facilitate greater long-term carbon storage, while providing a host of co-benefits. The carbon storage of trees planted will be slow at first, but will increase exponentially as trees grow. The Canadian Forest Service estimates that by 2050, the 2 billion additional trees planted could reduce GHG emissions by up to 12 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) annually – the equivalent of taking over 2 million gasoline-powered cars off the road each year.

The trees planted will also achieve key biodiversity, conservation, and human well-being co-benefits. By planting the right tree species in the right places and restoring wildlife habitat, tree planting will enhance biodiversity and forest resilience to climate change.

Planning and planting for the future

While planting a tree might seem simple, doing it on a large scale – and in a sustainable, ecologically appropriate and inclusive manner – requires careful planning to ensure the right tree is planted in the right place, for the right reasons. For example, this means planting only in areas where the ecosystem would naturally support trees, to maintain ecosystem health and biodiversity.

The tree planting process involves many steps and takes several years. The process begins with identifying land and creating a plan to establish clear planting objectives. From there, it takes 2 to 3 years to collect the seeds and grow tree seedlings in nurseries – and even longer for planting trees in urban settings. When the seedlings are strong enough to be planted, the site must be prepared to ensure adequate environmental conditions – some environments, such as urban areas or abandoned farmland, can be extremely difficult growing areas. After the trees are planted, they must be monitored to ensure health and survival.

Investing in nature to mitigate climate change

Planting 2 billion trees is no small task. This historical initiative will require the efforts of Canadians from coast to coast to plant areas destroyed by pests and fire, create parks and greenspaces in and around our cities, and restore forest habitat. This Canadian initiative will result in a significant contribution to the global effort to leverage nature-based solutions to address many of today’s challenges.

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