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Trees are obviously good for the planet. What’s not so clear to most people—governments, NGOs, investors, the public—are their socioeconomic benefits. Trees are essential for the economy, our health and our wellbeing.

Research shows that every $1 invested in restoring degraded land generates an estimated $7–$30 in economic benefits, including improved food production, carbon sequestration, and water quality. Yet each year, deforestation and land degradation costs the world $6.3 trillion in lost ecosystem services like agricultural products, recreational opportunities and clean air—equivalent to 8.3 percent of global GDP in 2016.

Despite these clear costs and benefits, restoration receives only a tiny fraction of the funding it needs. That’s where governments come in. A new WRI report, Roots of Prosperity: The Economics and Finance of Restoring Land, looks at the barriers and opportunities to scale up finance in restoration.

Originally published on the WRI Website

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There are two important answers to the question “why do we need more trees in farmland?” One is global and one is local.

Globally, trees are often recognized as the ‘lungs of the world’ because they exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the atmosphere. However, this is an understatement. If we think in these terms, trees are also the kidneys of the world as they regulate the flow and use of water by intercepting rain and releasing it slowly to the ground where it can either run off into rivers, or enter the groundwater. Plants can then absorb it for use in photosynthesis. This absorbed water is then transpired back to the atmosphere and blown on the wind until it falls as rain somewhere else.

Thus, trees are also like the skin of the world, being the interface between the vegetation and the atmosphere for the exchange of gases and water.

Similarly, trees are like the intestines of the world exchanging nutrients between the soil and the vegetation, fueling the nutrient and carbon cycle.

Finally, they are like the heart of the world, as they drive the ecosystems that make the world healthy and function properly. They do this by providing a very large number of niches for other organisms to inhabit, both above and below ground. Recent evidence has reported 2.3 million organisms on a single tree – mostly microbes – but also numerous insects and even bigger animals like mammals and birds. Others also live in the soil or, due to the microclimates created by the physical stature of the tree, on the associated herbs and bushes. It is all these organisms that provide the ecological services of soil formation and nutrient recycling, feeding off each other and creating an intricate web of food chains.

All this is important for the maintenance of nature’s balance that prevents weed, pest, and disease explosions. They also provide services like pollination, essential for the regeneration of most plants, not to mention the very topical regulation of carbon storage essential for climate control.

Originally published on the Mongabay Website 

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Every year, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) brings together scientists from around the world to measure the size of the greenhouse gas (GHG) “emissions gap,” the difference between the emissions level countries have pledged to achieve under international agreements and the level consistent with limiting warming to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). That benchmark exists because warming above 1.5-2 degrees C would bring increasingly catastrophic impacts. (Learn more in our post describing the world’s “carbon budget.”)

So what does the Gap Report show for 2017? These five charts explain.

1. Global GHG emissions are still increasing.

In 2016, global GHG emissions were about 52 gigatonnes (Gt CO2e/year). Total global GHG emissions have roughly doubled since 1970, and have grown dramatically even since 2000. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement and other processes contribute the most, around 70 percent of the total.

Encouragingly, the growth in global emissions in 2015 and 2016 is the slowest since the early 1990s (except years of global economic recession), and global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and cement production remained stable in both 2015 and 2016.  However, it remains to be seen whether these trends will be permanent.

Originally published on the WRI website.

Trees are renewable, so why not let them count under the proposed revisions to the EU renewable energy target? Here we answer this and other questions to demonstrate why burning trees for energy is not inherently climate-friendly.

What is the EU renewable energy target and its relevance to trees?

The European Union (EU) Renewable Energy Directive establishes an overall policy for advancing the use of energy from renewable sources in the EU. The current framework requires the EU to meet at least 20 percent of its total energy needs with renewables by 2020. Wood is currently the largest contributor to this renewable energy target, accounting for as much as 45 percent of all renewable energy consumed. Much of the forest biomass currently used consists of industrial and harvest residues and traditional fuelwood. However, these sources are nearing full exploitation and further demand for wood for bioenergy will likely come from additional tree harvesting. Even now, Europe is importing wood pellets from U.S. and Canadian forests. Proposals currently under discussion by the European Parliament for a revised Renewable Energy Directive would increase the share of renewable energy in the EU’s total energy mix from 20 percent to at least 27 percent, and possibly 30–35 percent, by 2030. This proposal would likely increase demand to turn trees into energy as EU countries seek ways to meet these more ambitious renewable energy targets.

Originally published on the WRI website.

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