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AI finds an area the size of the US ready for mass tree planting

This article originally featured in The Skylark’s newsletter and was written as a condensed news in brief.

Tree planting is different to most solutions to the climate emergency. Whereas common initiatives such as the adoption of renewable energies and reducing waste prevent CO2 entering the atmosphere, forest restoration is one of the only initiatives that draws down and stores excess CO2 already in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, most of the studies done to assess exactly how effective mass forest restoration would be have been based on estimations and rudimentary calculations.

The Crowther Lab has used machine learning from data sourced from 1.2 million locations around the world to create the first spatially explicit map of the entire global forest system. They found that there is currently 2.8bn hectares of continuous forest around the globe and that there is space available now for an extra 0.9bn hectares of continuous forest cover.

What is extraordinary about this study is not just that there is an area the size of the US ready for planting, but it has identified exactly where that space is. If we were to turn that space into appropriate tree cover, the trees would store an extra 205 billion tonnes of carbon once mature. This is about two thirds of what humans have released since the industrial revolution.

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