Planting trees no longer an option to mop up our increasing CO2 emissions

Nations around the globe are stepping up, determined to uphold the 2015 Paris climate agreement of limiting the global warming to well below 2 degree Celsius, even as the United States infamously pulled out of it recently!

Climatologists agree that the Paris climate deal sets an ambitious goal, which we can at best, strive to achieve. The sheer scale of reducing carbon dioxide (a major contributor of our warming planet) by curbing greenhouse gas emissions would take an unprecedented amount of concerted global effort.

But the question remains -in the race against time to mitigate effects of climate change, can we truly uphold the Paris climate agreement?

In the worst-case scenario, if we fail to do so using conventional methods shouldn't we have a backup plan? What are the alternatives? For instance, if we plant enough trees, we can get rid of excess carbon dioxide! Doesn't that sound straightforward? But how can we be sure of this plan succeeding? This is something scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, explored in their recent study published in Earth's Future, using mathematical models and computer simulations. 

You may ask why play with models and not simply plant trees and create forests? "It's too unrealistic to actually have a biomass plantation that could suck out all the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," says Dr. Lena Boysen, lead author of the study.

How so?

In order to effectively remove the carbon dioxide, we need fast-growing plants and grass species! "It is not the nice forest that you imagine it to be, instead it is a highly "managed" plantation," said Boysen.

And if we continue to emit CO2 as we do today and start planting trees once we cross the 2-degree limit, the study showed that these mass plantations would engulf huge areas, leading to untenable situations, interfering with our biosphere, ecosystem and impeding food production.

To counter this unrealistic scenario, the authors explored another model to find out if there is a way to complement a strong greenhouse gas mitigation effort. They studied an integrated socioeconomic model, where biomass plantations are smaller and scattered around the world. One would assume that such a situation would be somewhat tenable. However, the study showed that upon slowly scaling the areas up through the century, it still would require a lot of water, fertilizer and high-class machinery, to make these efforts successful!

Although prior scientific work has used approximations and has calculated estimations of such situations, the current study is unique as no one has simulated it or provided a map of the world and shown how it would look like with biomass plantations as a mitigation alternative.

"These results really drive home the immense quantities of carbon we're adding to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. Our emissions dwarf what we could counteract with even major - essentially unimaginable - changes to agriculture and forest cover worldwide," said Yarrow Axford, Associate Professor at Northwestern University who studies Arctic climate history to understand modern day climate change.

The study highlights the importance of mathematical models and predictions in such difficult situations since there are myriad ways our future could develop.

Models help us get a better understanding of what a future would resemble- all with a tweak of a variable or parameter using computer simulations. And models are where one can push the limits, "without having to change the real world," said Boysen. Since the authors used different mathematical functions to describe types of plants, bio-energy etc. with several different model parameters at their disposal the authors needed to use supercomputers to store and analyze terra bytes and petabytes of data!

Boysen, who is a postdoctoral fellow currently at the Max-Planck-Institut fur Meteorologie at Hamburg, plans to study the effect of drought and heat stress in forests, given that we expect to have more heat waves in future.

And what if the unthinkable happens or exceeds it -say, the temperature ramps up to 4 degree Celsius? According to the study, by mid-century we will have to have biomass as large as two-thirds of agriculture area for today!

But there is hope. "The good news is that we're actually seeing countries around the world installing lots of new solar and wind power, investing in energy and climate research, and taking a future-oriented approach to energy development that recognizes the multiple benefits of diversifying our energy supply. There is a big transition underway," said Axford.

Image credits:

John Harbinger
2017-06-20 18:09:17

There is no evidence whatsoever, that human emissions of CO2 are having any impact on global temperatures. CO2 increases follow temperature increases by outgassing from the oceans, the 2 degree target is a meaningless fantasy with no basis in science.

Write a comment ...
Post comment

Why Hillary Is Good For Your Health

Hillary the hawk at Stachus
Passing through the basement floor at Stachus these days you might not be sure if you can trust your eyes, as Hillary the Harris Hawk is likely to...

Oh dear, Obikes

Obike Muenchen
So far since launch, 6800 Obikes bikes have been positioned in Munich. More and more of these bicycles-for-rent are being deliberately damaged. Not...

Winter Tollwood 2017

Tollwood Winter Festival
Tollwood Winter Festival 2017 is currently taking place at the Theresienwiese in Munich.
This year's festival motto is: "We, all. Let's stand up and...

Engineering Jobs Fair in Munich

Munich Engineering Jobs - accepting CVs
The Association of German Engineers (VDI) is hosting its annual engineering recruitment fair on Thursday 16th November in Munich. The day-long event...

Second S-Bahn weekend maintenance closures

SBahn delays
For the second - and last - time of the year, the S-Bahn Stammstrecke (main line) will be out of service due to repair and maintenance works.


Follow-Up on the Unterfoehring shooting

A 26-year-old female police officer was severely injured three months ago during a routine check at the Unterföhring S-Bahn station. The suspected...

Institutionalist Ciudadanos won the election, but pro independence parties retain majority

Ines Arrimadas, leader of Ciudadanos with 37 seats obtained most of the support from voters (25,3), but it wasn´t enough to break a majority of pro...

DB Sprinter Hits Technical Issues

It should have been the glorious end of a long and expensive journey; after more than 25 years of planning, political discussions, building halts and...

Is an Executive MBA Worth it?

Chicago Booth MBA
The Future of Business Education: Is an Executive MBA Worth it? Join Chicago Booth in Munich for a candid panel discussion and audience Q&A with...

Rosenheimerplatz Knife Attack - multiple victims

UPDATE: Munich police have now confirmed the man being held is in fact their prime suspect and the emergency situation is now over. UPDATE: a man...

Munich Top City for IT and Engineering

Munich top city for engineering jobs
Back in 2014, a study by the European Commission confirmed that Munich is the city that offers Information and Communication Technology (ICT)...

Munich Students Win Hyperloop Contest

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and the aerospace company SpaceX, launched the "Hyperloop Pod Competition" in 2015. The Hyperloop is the concept of a...

Advertise with The Munich Eye
Public Service Advertisements
Shades of Love
Spanish Finca for rent Web Site Optimisation
Newspaper sudoku