A recent study published in Science Advances suggests that the world’s plants may absorb more atmospheric carbon dioxide from human activities than previously predicted. This is an unusually optimistic finding, but environmental scientists behind the research are quick to stress that it should not be interpreted as governments taking their foot off their obligations to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
Plants play a crucial role in mitigating climate change by absorbing a significant amount of carbon dioxide each year. However, it is not yet clear how much they will continue to absorb this gas in the future. Jürgen Knauer, leader of the research team, explains that a well-established climate model used to feed global climate predictions predicts stronger and more sustained carbon uptake until the end of the 21st century when considering critical factors that have been commonly ignored in most global models.
The study presents the results of modeling aimed at evaluating a high-emissions climate scenario, testing how vegetation carbon uptake would respond to global climate change until the end of the 21st century. Photosynthesis is the scientific term for the process in which plants convert carbon dioxide into sugars they use for growth and metabolism, serving as a natural mitigator of climate change by reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This greater absorption of carbon dioxide is the main driver of the growing sink of this terrestrial element recorded in recent decades.
However, it is unclear how vegetation will respond to changes in gas, temperature, and precipitation, and this study aims to evaluate this in the context of climate change scenarios. Simply planting more trees and protecting existing vegetation is not a silver bullet solution, but research underscores many benefits of conserving such vegetation.
Overall, while this study presents promising findings for plant-based solutions to mitigate climate change, it highlights that further research and action are needed to fully understand and maximize their potential impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.