Since the beginning of Industrial Age, two centuries ago, the average temperature of the earth has been rising considerably owing to uncontrollable emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which has been trapping the heat and making the earth hotter. This has led to a sharp rise in the number and intensity of the incidents of extreme weather events such as drought, floods, heatwaves, wildfires, cyclones and hurricanes; sea level has been rising year by year, ice sheets and snow are melting at a faster rate now than ever before! Climate change associated fatalities and loss of biodiversity have grown rapidly in the past few decades. In order to combat the challenges of climate change and mitigate future risks and an impending catastrophe, scientists, all over the world, have been exploring ways to make our future safer and sustainable. In recent years, the inclusion of the role of forests to reduce the impact of carbon emission in the atmosphere has become a subject of debate in the science community.
Forests absorb one-tenth of global carbon emission in forms of biomass, soil and other products. With consumerism on the rise, deforestation has become one of the major sources of the addition of carbon back into the atmosphere. Forests are known to contribute one-sixth of total carbon emission in the atmosphere when they are cleared, overused or when the land is degraded. Since the Paris Accord in 2015, governments and policymakers have been pushing afforestation and reforestation efforts, this has boosted many forest schemes. Countries are being monitored on their efforts on offsetting carbon emissions from fossil fuels usage. Citizens are being motivated to establish new forests and to protect the existing ones. Nations such as China and India, who are among the biggest greenhouse gases emitters of the world, have been planting more trees than ever. China plans to plant trees in areas equivalent to four times the area of the United Kingdom.
The push to expand forest areas globally has been recognised and praised by environmentalists, policymakers and scientists, however, they also caution against some of the complex and unexplored impacts of forests have on climate. It is a common knowledge that trees have a cooling effect on the climate as they take up carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis, however, they also produce complex chemicals which have a warming effect on the atmosphere. The release of volatile organic compounds or VOC like Isoprene, a small hydrocarbon, have a warming effect on the globe. When it combines with Nitrogen oxides, it forms Ozone which too has a climate warming effect in the lower atmosphere. Isoprene can also increase the lifetime of other greenhouse gases like methane.
Scientists are studying the forests in different regions and their cooling and warming effect on their surrounding. Being home to several terrestrial biodiversities on earth, it would not be prudent to gainsay the benefits of trees or forests but there is ample evidence which suggests that we need to strategise our fight against climate change carefully. Until we have a clear understanding of how forests impact climate, we can not depend on them as one of our major weapons against climate change war. That said, we can not hold our afforestation efforts, too, for long. We need the right answers and fast actions to implement forest strategy in tackling climate change.