How much CO2 does a tree absorb?
Trees are vital to our ecosystem. Often known as the ‘lungs of the Earth’, they play a key role in storing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. In addition, they are key to stabilising soil, and reducing air temperature, humidity, and flooding. As such, protecting, preserving and planting trees represents a real opportunity for carbon footprint compensation, and fighting against global warming.
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The tree: A carbon sink
Global warming is an urgent problem we need to tackle. The main cause is the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Thanks to their ability to absorb carbon and produce oxygen, protecting trees is probably the best way to stop this global phenomenon.
Photosynthesis of plants: A summary
Trees are known as ‘carbon sinks’ because of their ability to store carbon. This is done through a process called photosynthesis. Trees absorb carbon dioxide through their leaves and turn them into sugars needed for them to grow. As the tree grows, it is able to lock away the carbon in its branches, roots and trunk, playing a key role in combating the effects of global warming.
What is a carbon sink?A carbon sink is a natural reservoir that captures and stores carbon from the atmosphere. There are several types of sinks: oceans, forests, and agricultural land. After the oceans, forests are the second largest carbon sink on the planet.
Reforestation: A way to reduce the impact of the greenhouse effect
Reforestation is one of the best ways to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and counteract global warming.
Deforestation is one of the main causes of biodiversity loss, another great challenge we face in the 21st century, and of climate change. Reforestation is one of the key ways to combat it. Trees play an essential role in the balance of the ecosystem. They serve as a habitat for many species of animals, birds and insects.
Trees contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change in several ways:
- Carbon sequestration by forests.
- Carbon storage in forest soils or in processed wood products through photosynthesis.
- The substitution of fossil fuels for the use of wood as an energy source.
- The replacement of energy-intensive materials such as aluminum or PVC.
Trees are easy to plant, they remove CO2 from the atmosphere accumulated over years and absorb it over a long period. In addition to absorbing CO2, they emit oxygen.
When burning, trees release all the CO2 they have absorbed, which is why it is necessary to prevent forest fires.
The carbon footprint in the forestry sector
There are a number of projects across the UK and in other countries around the world that aim to plant trees, preserve and protect forests - so vital for the absorption of carbon dioxide. By supporting these organisations, such as the Woodland Trust or the National Forest, you can help offset your carbon emissions.
According to a Swiss study, 1.2 billion trees would have to be planted on Earth to absorb two-thirds of the CO2 produced by man since the industrial age.
However, although reforestation helps in the fight against global warming, it is important, in addition to offsetting its CO2 emissions, to try to reduce them beforehand.
Any approach to carbon offsetting must be preceded by actions to reduce your carbon footprint. This can be done various ways by making changes in your day-to-day life such as:
- Switching to a green energy provider.
- Avoid using the car for short journeys and choose to walk or cycle instead. For longer journeys, think about using public transport such as busses or trains.
- Reduce the amount of meat you consume.
- Adopt a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle.
Planting trees to tackle climate change
The benefits of a tree for the planet as a carbon sink seem obvious. But how much do they reduce air pollution?
It is important to distinguish between air pollution and greenhouse gases. Both are responsible for climate change, however, atmospheric pollutants (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides) usually have negative effects on health, while greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, do not necessarily have a direct impact on health.
Carbon sequestration: What is the CO2 absorption capacity of trees?
In the UK, a person emits an average of 7.01 tons of CO2 per year. This varies greatly depending on the lifestyle of each person (food, transport, housing, etc.).
Although the carbon absorption capacity can vary, it is generally considered that a tree can store about 167 kg of CO2 per year, or 1 ton of CO2 per year for 6 mature trees. This means that more than 67 trees would have to be planted a year to offset the CO2 emissions of a single Brit.
What species absorb the most CO2?
Not all trees are equally eco-efficient. The carbon absorption capacity varies greatly from tree to tree, even those of the same species. There are many factors to be considered, including:
- The species
- The weather conditions
- The type of soil
Some trees grow more quickly than others and therefore absorb CO2 faster, as is the case with the eucalyptus. In contrast, other tree species grow slower but also live longer and therefore absorb more CO2 over the long term, such as oak or beech. It is difficult to estimate which trees absorb the most CO2.
To calculate this average, the composition of the forest must be taken into account. Forests with a variety of species (mixed forests) should be favoured because they absorb more CO2.
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