Tree planting to offset carbon

Tree planting helps offset your carbon footprint, combat climate change and give back to a planet that gives so much. But is it the best way to offset your carbon emissions? 

In this article, we’re delving into tree planting to offset CO2. Specifically, how trees offset carbon, how much carbon is absorbed by a tree, how you can plant trees to offset your carbon and everything else you could want to know.

How does tree planting offset carbon?

Trees offset carbon through the process of photosynthesis – absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen in its place.

Definition: Photosynthesis is the process of turning energy from sunlight into energy used for respiration, growth and reproduction. In other words, photosynthesis keeps trees and plants alive.

For photosynthesis to take place, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air, water from the ground and light from the sun. They then turn these into glucose and energy. 

While all plants absorb carbon dioxide, trees absorb significantly more because of their size, roots and average life span. This is why tree planting to offset carbon emissions is hugely popular and effective.

How much carbon does a tree absorb?

A mature tree absorbs approximately 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.

However, this figure varies significantly, depending on factors such as:

    • The size of the tree
    • The location of the tree
    • The type of tree
    • The age and health of the tree.

For example, a large, deep-rooted, broad leaf tree in a sunny climate with regular rainfall grows quicker and absorbs much more carbon than a small tree struggling in the corner of your garden.

Accordingly, it’s difficult to put a specific figure on how much carbon an average tree absorbs, but in the interests of combatting climate change, we believe it’s better to give a conservative estimate than none at all.

Other benefits of planting trees

While trees do a pretty good job of absorbing carbon and reducing your CO2 footprint, there are many more benefits of planting trees in the UK and across the world.

Reversing the effects of deforestation

Deforestation is a global problem, affecting the climate, wildlife, ecosystems, weather patterns and livelihoods.

Definition: Deforestation is the large-scale removal of trees or forest to use the land for other purposes such as urban development, roads, mining and agriculture. Deforestation can also result from logging – removing trees to produce timber and pulp.

Planting trees in bulk helps reverse the consequences of deforestation and bring back the benefits of forests and woods.

Providing ecosystems and habitats

Trees provide animals, birds and insects with homes, shelter, food and defence. In fact, 80% of the world’s land-based species live in forests. Trees also support other plants and seedlings – creating a whole ecosystem for nature to thrive in.

Alleviating extreme poverty

Trees provide people with jobs. It’s estimated that 13.2 million people across the world work in the forest sector, and 41 million people have a job related to that sector. Trees improve soil quality to help farmers grow crops, while also providing products such as nuts, berries, fruits, mushrooms, herbs, oil, peat and biofuel. When you plant a tree, you also provide someone with a job and a wage to home, feed and clothe their family.

Regulating rainfall

Forests help restore natural weather patterns through the process of evapotranspiration.

Definition: Evapotranspiration is where the sun evaporates water transpired during photosynthesis. 

The moisture released into the air helps restore regular rainfall patterns, necessary for growing crops and preventing drought.

Reducing flooding

Trees are also a natural defence against flooding. Flooding is a severe consequence of climate change, with rising sea levels causing frequent and more severe storm surges. Not only do trees offset carbon to reduce the earth’s temperature and stop sea levels rising, but they also provide a physical defence too.

Tree leaves intercept rainfall to minimise soil erosion and steady the flow of water into streams and rivers. Tree roots absorb rainwater while holding soil in place to prevent sediment runoff into riverbeds, reducing capacity. And tree canopies capture raindrops, which then evaporate into the air.

Preventing desertification

Tree roots hold the soil together, making it less vulnerable to erosion and eventual desertification.

Definition: Desertification is when land turns into a desert because of a decline in soil quality and reduced rainfall. 

Improving water quality

Forests significantly improve water quality by stabilising the ground and preventing erosion and runoff into rivers and streams. Trees and soil also filter rainwater – removing pollutants and debris.

Improving soil quality

Planting trees improves soil quality for animals, plants and farmers. Roots bring nutrients to the surface and decomposing leaves and plant litter form soil organic matter. Tree canopies trap nutrients in the atmosphere, fertilising soil. Certain tree species provide habitats for bacteria and fungi that make the soil more fertile. And improved soil quality enhances how much water the soil absorbs, leading to less flooding.

Reducing energy consumption

Finally, strategically placed trees provide buildings with shade in the summer and protection from cold winds in the winter – reducing the amount of energy required to heat and cool buildings.

The best trees for absorbing carbon

One of the best tree species for absorbing carbon is oaks, thanks to their large canopies, dense wood and long lifespans. Other top carbon-absorbing trees include the common horse-chestnut, black Walnut, London plane, and American sweetgum.

However, variety is best. A recent study found that each additional tree species introduced to a plantation could add 6% to its carbon stocks.

The best trees for carbon offsetting are:

  • Fast-growing
  • Long living
  • Large leaf
  • Native species
  • Low maintenance.

How to plant trees to offset carbon

There are three different ways you can plant trees to offset carbon in the UK and across the world:

1. Plant trees yourself

If you have a shovel, some land and a little time and knowledge, you can plant a tree yourself. While it might not have the same carbon offsetting impact as a whole forest, it’s a step in the right direction.

2. Plant trees through farmers

If you have a bigger budget, you can work directly with farmers across the world to plant trees and provide them with a regular income.

3. Plant trees with MoreTrees

MoreTrees makes tree planting easy and affordable. You can plant trees in the UK and across the world at the click of a button from as little as £1. You can also gift trees and integrate your systems to plant trees upon certain actions automatically.

If you’re thinking about tree planting to offset your carbon, why not plant a tree for free by signing up to our newsletter.