Commentary: Planting trees is a safe climate action but are its benefits inflated?

Commentary Planting trees is a safe climate action but are

SINGAPORE: Planting trees has lengthy been described as a strategic and “politically safe” climate action. 

Targets for the Singapore Green Plan 2030 introduced on Feb 10 included planting 1 million trees by 2030. Elsewhere, the UK authorities has pledged to plant 30,000 hectares of trees yearly till 2025.

Even infamous climate change denier Donald Trump dedicated the US’ assist for the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees initiative when he was in workplace.

The argument is easy: Trees retailer a great amount of carbon, so planting extra of them will assist take away important quantities of planet-warming greenhouse gases from the ambiance. 

Amidst an ongoing debate about reforestation, scientists nonetheless, are now arguing that the climate benefits of tree planting are inflated, whereas the potential antagonistic social and environmental impression is downplayed.

READ: Visitors to Clementi, Dover forests should be mindful of trees prone to falling: SLA, NParks

A scientific estimate that we might plant sufficient forests to retailer 205 gigatonnes of carbon – equal to one-third of all emissions produced by people to this point – was met with criticism for overestimating the land appropriate for tree planting, together with areas the place native ecosystems or indigenous livelihoods can be disrupted. 

In addition, predicting the quantity of carbon absorbed by forests is extraordinarily difficult and differ based mostly on a multitude of things comparable to tree species, climate or soil high quality. 

Many additionally declare that planting trees distracts from the extra urgent have to part out fossil fuels which account for almost all of greenhouse gasoline emissions. 

The sheer variety of bold tree planting initiatives launched in recent times is encouraging but it’s crucial that we perceive that planting trees affords no panacea to climate change, and if accomplished wrongly, might truly hurt the planet. 

Demand for rare wood in China and Vietnam is driving rapid deforestation that has plundered a

Demand for uncommon wooden in China and Vietnam is driving fast deforestation that has plundered a quarter of Cambodia’s forests in a technology. (Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

The world’s largest afforestation venture – cultivating trees the place none has grown earlier than – spearheaded by China is a prime instance of a tree planting initiative with blended outcomes. 

Launched in 1978 to combat desertification within the north of the nation, the Three-North Shelter Forest Programme, also called Great Green Wall, got down to develop 87 million acres of forests, equal to the scale of Germany, by 2050. 

Under political strain to indicate fast outcomes, efforts have been targeted on planting monocultures of fast-growing poplars. While forest protection has virtually doubled, planting a single, non-native species in a dry area attracted pests and ailments, inflicting most of the trees to die, while additionally exacerbating water shortage and destroying current ecosystems.

READ: Singapore to plant 170,000 more trees in industrial estates over the next 10 years

The venture did be taught from its preliminary missteps, and the second part focuses on pure forest regrowth and interesting native communities for improved upkeep of the forests. 

A center floor will be discovered within the knowledge of organisations which have lengthy seemed on the problem of reforestation just like the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew within the UK. They’ve listed a few guiding guidelines that could be useful.


Countries and organisations which destroy pure forests for agricultural or industrial use can not make up for the biodiversity harm and carbon emissions brought on by planting trees elsewhere – protecting forests of their authentic state ought to at all times be a precedence.

In Singapore, better public consciousness has additionally led calls in opposition to clearing forests for housing and industrial growth – most not too long ago over Kranji, Dover and Clementi forests.

In Indonesia, the Bukit Barisan Selatan Sustainable Commodities Partnership (BBS KEKAL) exemplifies the fragile steadiness required between safeguarding current forests and guaranteeing sustainable livelihoods for native farmers with out deforestation. 

Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP) in Southern Sumatra is one of many final remaining habitats of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant, but is underneath menace as a result of agricultural enlargement. 

An estimated 10 per cent of the park is underneath energetic espresso cultivation, contributing as much as 5 per cent of Indonesia’s annual espresso manufacturing. 

Through coaching and incentives comparable to preferential entry to finance and markets, BBS KEKAL goals to enhance the productiveness and profitability of smallholder espresso farmers on their current land, lowering the necessity to lower down extra trees, and supporting a transition to deforestation-free espresso manufacturing. 


Authors of the Kew analysis additionally counsel prioritising pure regeneration, the method of pure forest regrowth, both by merely defending the world from additional harm, or with applicable human intervention. 

READ: Native species, community engagement: Why there’s more to planting trees than digging and watering

Natural regeneration will be more cost effective and environment friendly in comparison with constructing a man-made forest from scratch, particularly if the degradation is minimal, pure vegetation is nonetheless current, or the world is positioned shut to a different forest that may function a seed supply.

Where pure regeneration is not possible, scientists at Kew suggest that reforestation give attention to beforehand forested areas which have suffered degradation, or broaden an current forest by connecting it to the reforested website.

treeplanting (1)

Ms Nutan Shah planting a tree at Thomson Nature Park on Oct 24, 2020. (Photo Chew Hui Min)

In dense city locations comparable to Singapore, the National Parks Board (NParks) is planting trees and shrubs alongside sidewalks to create so-called “nature ways”, which join and facilitate the motion of animals like birds and butterflies between inexperienced areas, and replicate among the habitat worth of pure forests in an city setting. 

It’s additionally crucial to determine “no-go zones” for reforestation. These embrace naturally tree-less snow-covered areas comparable to tundras that present a cooling impact on the planet by reflecting the solar, or within the case of Africa and tropical or subtropical Asia, savannas and wetlands which already contribute to capturing carbon, largely within the soil.  


Choosing the suitable kind of trees will guarantee better biodiversity conservation and extra resilience in direction of pests, illness, excessive climate occasions and climate change.

Instead of monoculture tree plantations that may trigger soil erosion and degradation, consultants counsel specializing in planting a mixture of trees, together with native, uncommon, endemic or endangered species. 

It’s additionally essential to pick species that are capable of type mutually useful relationships with the encompassing wildlife, together with fungi, pollinators and seed-dispersing animals.  

Native species which have a higher probability of surviving unfavourable circumstances in a closely broken website needs to be prioritised. NParks, as an illustration, chosen varied kinds of native coastal and again mangrove tree species, two of which are critically endangered in Singapore, as a part of its mangrove restoration efforts. 

Exotic species, comparable to acacia or eucalyptus, could be promoted for his or her larger industrial worth or due to their fast-growing nature, but usually change into invasive, that means that they take over pure habitats, compete with native species, scale back biodiversity and water availability.

READ: Commentary: Let Singapore’s green spaces grow wild

One instance of this is in Isan, one of many poorest areas of Thailand the place tropical forests have been cleared to reap eucalyptus as feedstock for paper mills, but the non-native species diminished soil high quality and drained all of the water, making it inconceivable for some other crops to develop. 

Eventually even the eucalyptus trees didn’t survive or have been lower down, leaving the forest barren and the soil chalky. Villagers who used to supply native medicinal crops or seasonal meals from the forest, struggled to look elsewhere for earnings or meals.


Lack of neighborhood involvement is usually cited as the important thing purpose why reforestation initiatives fail. If the land thought of for tree planting has been used as a supply of livelihood by locals, they may resort to slicing down trees elsewhere or attempt to retake the land as soon as the trees have been planted. 

According to Marie-Noëlle Keijzer, co-founder of non-profit WeForest, initiatives ought to final a minimal of 10 years for native populations to reap the benefits of preserving cultivated trees, in distinction with “plant and go” schemes which depart the duty to take care of the trees to native communities.

NParks Forest Restoration Action Plan

Minister for Social and Family and Development Desmond Lee (left), Adviser for Holland-Bukit Timah Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Chairman of Garden City Fund Prof Leo Tan and Adviser for Holland-Bukit Timah Ms Sim Ann, collaborating locally tree-planting ceremony. (Photo: Farez Juraimi) 

The NGO Eden Reforestation Projects employs native villagers in its reforestation initiatives to supply them with an financial incentive to safeguard the trees, and invests a proportion from the price of every tree to rent forest guards for the long-term safety of the forests. 

READ: Commentary: Save forests or build 4-rooms? It’s not a zero-sum game

“Reforestation is more than just about the number of trees and tree planting. You can’t just plant or restore a tree and leave it, or expect that restoration without protection is sufficient to reach our climate goals”, says John Lotspeich, Executive Director at Trillion Trees.  

This checklist is not exhaustive but it is essential that we perceive why we are planting trees, and in the event that they are the suitable ones on the proper place.

Tree planting is an undoubtedly invaluable resolution to mitigate climate change, but reforestation can’t be a cure-all. It should be mixed with efforts to guard current forests, tackling the basis causes of deforestation and slicing carbon emissions at supply.  

Could conserving inexperienced areas result in extra harmful wildlife encounters? Conservationists and an NParks director weigh in on CNA’s Heart of the Matter podcast:


Trang Chu Minh is a advisor on worldwide growth initiatives on matters starting from climate change mitigation to inclusive schooling. 


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *