Some scientists say that forests can significantly help save the Earth from catastrophic climate change.1 Others say that forests are only a small part of the solution.2

This debate raises broader questions. How do forests affect global warming? What impact do they have on the climate?

Why forests are essential to fight climate change

Forests are necessary to fight climate change because trees absorb and store significant amounts of carbon dioxide and recycle it into oxygen. They do this through the process of photosynthesis.3

The world’s forests absorbed around 15.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere each year between 2001 and 2019, according to NASA researchers.4 For context, the world emitted over 36 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019.5

In 2019, scientists showed how planting billions of trees across the world would be the biggest and cheapest way of removing carbon dioxide from the air. They said it would significantly affect CO2 levels and slow down climate change.6

Trees don’t just absorb carbon, they also enrich the soil. That, in turn, helps the soil and ground absorb carbon dioxide too.7

Why trees are not the silver bullet to fight climate change

Trees are just one part of the many solutions we need to stop global warming. But, they cannot be the only answer. “It’s definitely not a solution by itself to addressing current climate change. To do that, we need to reduce human emissions of greenhouse gases. But it could still have some partial impact on our ability to reduce climate change”, says NASA senior scientist Sassan Saatchi.8

Better management of forests, land and other natural ecosystems can get us at least a quarter of the way to meeting the 1.5 °C goal. But to stop runaway climate change, we need to cut global use of fossil fuels.9

Around 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity and heat production, transportation and industry combined. Without decarbonising those sectors, we cannot scratch the surface.10

‌Forests can take us a long way, but to stop global warming, we need to stop decarbonisation first.


  1. Carrington, D. (2019). Tree planting “has mind-blowing potential” to tackle climate crisis. [online] the Guardian. Available at:
  2. ScienceDaily. (n.d.). Can forests save us from climate change? Managing Europe’s forests to maximize carbon sequestration has a negligible effect on the global climate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Mar. 2021].
  3. Bassham, J.A. and Lambers, H. (2019). photosynthesis | Importance, Process, & Reactions. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at:
  4. (n.d.). NASA Satellites Help Quantify Forests’ Impacts on the Global Carbon Budget. [online] NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Available at: [Accessed 31 Mar. 2021].
  5. Ritchie, H. and Roser, M. (2019). CO2 emissions. [online] Our World in Data. Available at:
  6. Carrington, D. (2019). Tree planting “has mind-blowing potential” to tackle climate crisis. [online] the Guardian. Available at:
  7. Engl, H. of and Forest (2020). Trees and soil protection. [online] The Heart of England Forest. Available at: [Accessed 31 Mar. 2021].
  8. Buis, A. (2019). Examining the Viability of Planting Trees to Help Mitigate Climate Change – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. [online] Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. Available at:
  9. Griscom, B.W., Adams, J., Ellis, P.W., Houghton, R.A., Lomax, G., Miteva, D.A., Schlesinger, W.H., Shoch, D., Siikamäki, J.V., Smith, P., Woodbury, P., Zganjar, C., Blackman, A., Campari, J., Conant, R.T., Delgado, C., Elias, P., Gopalakrishna, T., Hamsik, M.R. and Herrero, M. (2017). Natural climate solutions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, [online] 114(44), pp.11645–11650. Available at:
  10. US EPA (2018). Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data | US EPA. [online] US EPA. Available at:

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