Does planting trees help climate change?

Olivia Crowe of Earthly explains how tree planting can make a positive impact on global warming, biodiversity, poverty and more.

Yugi the Giraffe - 5 July 2022

In 2022, it feels like we're past the need to simply "raise awareness" about climate change. There can scarcely be anyone with access to TV or the web who doesn't know it's an urgent problem. So right now, what's needed is less "awareness", than action.

The question is, what action should we be taking. Deforestation has long been closely associated with human impact on the planet, and accounts for 10% of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity – and tree planting is a popular programme to mitigate this fact.

There’s no denying that trees are an important part of the solution to many environmental issues we’re currently facing. But not all tree planting schemes are equal: the protection of biodiversity, the survival of the trees planted and the rate at which they’re subsequently harvested can mitigate climate gains.

For environmentally conscious businesses, trees have become a powerful marketing tool – but financial incentives to plant trees can encourage plantations, where they can be planted quickly and easily without the necessary long-term focus on restoring the ecosystem, land and communities. So while planting trees is beneficial, how can you identify the initiatives that would stand up to scrutiny?

One of the small but important ways YuLifers can help is by donating their YuCoin to plant trees. And to make the process as simple and transparent as possible, YuLife partners with the experts at Earthly, who connect businesses around the world with the best science-backed, nature-based projects for their carbon reduction strategy.

We chatted to Olivia Crowe, Head of Research at Earthly, to learn exactly how planting trees helps the planet, and how these projects support YuLife businesses in making a positive impact – with the data to prove it.

“Each mangrove removes around 308kg of CO2 from the atmosphere over its 25-year life cycle... So they really do have a powerful impact on the climate."

Mangroves in Madagascar

Olivia explains that when YuLifers use their YuCoin to plant trees, they're contributing to a mangrove-planting project run by their partner Eden Reforestation Projects in Madagascar. And this project both helps the planet and alleviates poverty.

The project is based in Ankilahila, a town of around 16,000 people in the northern Sofia Region of the African country. "Mangroves have been essential for the local Malagasy community, sustaining income-generating activities such as fishing," Olivia explains. Before the project started, though, the area was suffering greatly from deforestation: "The trees were being cut down for a variety of different purposes, including wood and charcoal production."

Now, things are turning around. "The project supports local communities, to help them plan and manage mangrove forests, on community land surrounding the village," explains Olivia. "So there's a real sense of local ownership for the project."

As well as providing long-term employment for locals, replanting mangroves offers many other benefits, such as storm surge protection and vital habitat for threatened species. And, as Olivia reveals, there are few places in the world that need such help more right now.

"Madagascar is really on the frontline of climate change," she explains. "They're one of the 10 countries most vulnerable to disasters, and since mid-2021 they've been experiencing a food crisis, due to one of the most severe droughts of the past four decades. So it's really essential to invest in this area, and increase their resilience to extreme weather risks."

Mangroves have huge potential to increase this resilience, because they can act as a buffer and reduce the size of waves that come in from hurricanes and big tropical storms, protecting the coastline.

"At the same time, with a steady income, local people can save, invest in their family and health care, and diversify their income through micro enterprises," Olivia adds. "As a result, people have better health, they're accessing more nutritious food, and they can afford to send their kids to school."

Why trees matter

Helping the people of Madagascar, of course, is only one of the benefits of this tree-planting project. It's also helping the people of Earth in general, by making a real difference to slowing down global warming.

While there are currently three trillion trees on Earth, it's estimated that 15 billion trees are cut down each year, and the global number of trees has fallen by approximately 46% since humans first appeared. This makes a significant impact on climate change, because not only do trees produce oxygen, they also absorb carbon dioxide.

It's estimated that on average, a mature tree will absorb over 22kg of carbon dioxide in a single year. And the more oxygen (and the less carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere, the less that global warming takes place.

Trees also act as air filters, trapping particles and pollutants, and making our air cleaner. They help keep areas cool, too; by providing shade against the sun, and through evapotranspiration, where water evaporates from trees and cools the air around them. This reduces the need for air conditioning in hot countries, lessening the need to burn fossil fuels, and thus slowing climate change even further.

And as Olivia explains, when it comes to carbon replenishment, mangroves are the superstars of the environmental movement.  

Making a real difference

"Mangroves can remove carbon from the atmosphere two to four times faster than these other ecosystems, so it happens at a quicker rate," explains Olivia. "On average, each mangrove removes around 308kg of CO2 from the atmosphere over its 25-year life cycle. And mangroves store up to 10 times more carbon per hectare, both in the trees and in the sediment below them, than other trees. So they really do have a powerful impact on the climate."

But is all this tree planting a case of too little, too late? Not a bit of it. The Madagascar project, for instance, has already planted more than 300 million trees since it began in 2007. That's not just a well-meaning drop in the ocean: that's making a real difference.

YuLife's partnership with Earthly hasn't been going long: it only started in October 2021. And yet YuLifers have already helped to plant over 14,000 trees – without having to contribute a penny from their own pockets.

“At YuLife, we're proud to be playing a part in this brilliant project, which takes such a thoughtful and intelligent approach to problems such as climate change, biodiversity and poverty,” says Sammy Rubin, co-founder and CEO.  “And it's great to know that this effort is not just paying lip service to environmental issues, but actually making a real, practical difference; day in, day out.”

Yugi the Giraffe

Yugi is our YuLife mascot. Like all giraffes they've got a big heart – in fact the biggest heart of all land animals.