U.S. Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the Trillion Trees and Natural Carbon Storage Act earlier this month. The bipartisan legislation aims to advance the nation’s climate action agenda and the preservation of forests.
The bill comes 10 months after U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) brought the Trillion Trees Act to the House of Representatives and was met with backlash from environmental groups. In response, the National Parks Conservation Association wrote a letter of opposition on behalf of its millions of members and supporters, and Greenpeace pulled together a petition to National Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). A major criticism of the bill was its supposed greenwashing of the logging industry.
This new bill comes a long way from that first attempt. According to the National Audubon Society, the legislation now includes a more sophisticated system of support for ecosystems and sequestering carbon, including caring for old-growth forests, wetlands and grasslands. It relies on a “net carbon stock” metric rather than a tree count, Audubon writes, and establishes a funding mechanism to support reforestation. While Audubon opposed Westerman’s bill, the organization supports this current legislation, while noting that planting must work in coordination with pollution reduction measures, not as a substitute.
“While it’s true that reforms to other sectors like electricity, transportation, and industry will play a critical role in addressing climate change, we must not forget that important gains can be made through natural solutions like climate-smart forestry,” Michael Obeiter, senior director of federal climate strategy at the National Audubon Society, said in a statement. “We thank Senators Braun, Coons, Young, and King for introducing this bill, which can have a tangible and positive impact for both birds and people in the fight against climate change.”
This act relates to a worldwide effort to plant more trees. Just this year, the trillion trees platform was launched during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The initiative was designed to support global efforts such as the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration beginning next year, led by the U.N. Environment Program and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
What measures would this Senate bill instate to support a trillion trees in its own way? Included are an authorized $10 million in support of USDA Forestry Nursery Revival programs to supply seeds and saplings; amendments to international conservation programs to include carbon sequestration and forest management as approved technical assistance; and requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish objectives for increasing the net carbon stock of American ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, wetlands and coastal habitats.
The ecological impetus for replanting? There is a need to replant, not only to restore the forests that burned in wildfires this summer, but also to combat climate change. Research has shown that nature-based solutions such as building up forests and other ecosystems can contribute up to a third of the emissions reductions required to meet Paris Agreement targets by 2030.
The economic impetus for planting extends to the need for a multi-pronged approach to climate action that will bring us to a cleaner and more resilient economy. The costs of inaction are real. Every one degree Celsius increase in average global temperature costs about 1.2 percent in gross domestic product, finds a study published by Science Magazine.
Time, scale, accounting and permanence are some of the challenges to planting solutions that James Temple identifies in his January article in the MIT Technology Review. Time — even common sense must admit that it takes time, decades, for trees to grow to their full carbon sequestering potential. Scale — based on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the U.S. currently emits, Temple notes the country would have to dedicate an area of land over twice that of Texas to offset those emissions. Accounting — accurately measuring the impacts of reforesting is nearly impossible, and mostly overestimated, even by the United Nations, Temple writes. Permanence — as we saw this year with widespread wildfires, trees are not necessarily a perennial carbon sink, and when a tree burns, all the carbon that was stored returns right back into the atmosphere.
Thus, the importance of not just offsetting emissions, but reducing them — developing new needed technologies for the clean energy sector and implementing them, promoting best practices in agriculture, transforming transportation, reducing waste — there is so much to do, and there is no quick fix.
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