Skip to content
Will Planting Trees Save Our Planet

Will planting trees save our planet?

will planting trees save our planet

Want to feel good about your climate footprint? Plant a tree!

The tree planting movement now forms the basis of a rapidly growing global industry. Following COP26, as countries around the globe are attempting to meet their climate change goals, and businesses are trying to cancel out their carbon emissions, around 1.9 billion trees are being planted every year.

Through photosynthesis, trees pull out carbon dioxide from the air to help grow their branches tress and roots and breathe whilst breathing out oxygen. Forest soil also holds vast amount of carbon dioxide. This is an obvious benefit of tree planting for the planet, however there are many other benefits too such as improving wildlife habitats, improving resilience to wildfires, improving water quality etc. Ideally, it is said that we need to be planting the same number of trees that we lose each year to achieve sustainability. There are many plans underway to do so, including growing a forest across the whole width of Africa, and a third of India too. However, data shows that the world needs to plant at least 1.3 trillion trees in the next thirty years to restore the earth to healthy levels of tree cover and cancel the current damaging carbon emissions.

In January 2020, the World Economic Forum launched the One Trillion Trees Initiative, a global movement to grow, restore and conserve trees around the planet. One trillion appears to be the common target for other organizations that coordinate global forestation projects. Yet as global eagerness to plant trees grows, so does a body of research that cast doubts and raise questions on this method as a means to fix the climate crisis.  Firstly, the amount of land required to plant a trillion trees by 2030 is unfathomably vast. It is the same land that is required for growing food, as well as the habitats of plants and animals that will find it much harder to survive when competing with trees. Secondly, trees can’t just be planted and left to grow, they need to be cared for. Many mass tree planting movements don’t have the resource to care for the trees, which can result in deforestation, reversing the aims of the projects. In Turkey, volunteers planted 11 million trees around the country on one day in 2019; a couple of months later, as many as 90 percent of the saplings were dead, a result of being planted at the wrong time and not getting enough water.

So, whilst planting trees seems like a straightforward way to reduce climate change, the process in a real-life context is much more complicated and doesn’t address the root of the problem which is, the social and economic pressures that lead to climate change in the first place. In fact, it’s so complicated that many argue it’s better to stop focusing on planting trees and let nature run its course. What is meant by that is natural regeneration, where trees can grow back naturally due to land being inhabited and left to be wild. For example, Europe has a third more trees than it did in 1900, and this is mostly due to natural regrowth. This way, the trees don’t need attention to grow, and it doesn’t cost anything either. Research suggests that trees which are naturally grown are on average 40x better at capturing carbon than planted trees.

This isn’t to say that tree planting doesn’t have a place in addressing climate change, but that overpromising the benefits can dangerously skew where we focus our efforts. The focus for trees should be on making space for forests to regrow themselves as well as protecting existing forests. In areas where nature can’t bounce back on its own, projects have a much greater chance of success when left in the hands of local communities as opposed to governments.

Planting trees may not help save our planet alone, but there is a place for humans to protect our forests; it’s less about sticking a trillion saplings in the ground and more about carefully planned regeneration.

At eco-shaper, we drive action on climate change and streamline carbon footprinting. For example, we can help calculate emissions across the entire ecosystem that companies work across and produce automated reporting based on outcomes. It’s like Xero, for sustainability. Contact us to be part of our research group on



UK Office
Registered Office:
86-90 Paul Street, London, EC2A 4NE

Registered in England Number: 13717303

EU Office
Unit 1a, Block 1, Bracken Business Park
Sandyford, D18H283, Dublin, Ireland

Registered in Ireland Number: 717904