Tree planting is booming. Here’s how it could help or hurt the planet.

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Eucalyptus, for example, grows fast and straight, making it a lucrative wood product. Native to Australia and a few islands to the north, its leaves feed koalas, which have evolved to tolerate a powerful poison they contain. But in Africa and South America – where trees are widely grown for timber, fuel and, increasingly, carbon storage – they provide far less value to wildlife. They are also blamed for water depletion and worsening forest fires.

Experts recognize that forest restoration and carbon sequestration are complex and that commercial species have a role to play. People need wood, a renewable product with a lower carbon footprint than concrete or steel. They need paper and fuel to cook.

Planting fast-growing species for harvesting can sometimes help preserve surrounding native forests. And, by strategically adding native species, tree plantings can aid biodiversity by creating wildlife corridors to connect disconnected habitat areas.

“This restoration movement cannot happen without the private sector,” said Michael Becker, communications manager at 1t.org, a group created by the World Economic Forum to lobby for the conservation and growth of a trillion of trees with the help of private investment. . “Historically, there have been bad actors, but we have to integrate them and do the right thing.”

One challenge is that helping biodiversity does not offer the financial return of carbon storage or timber markets.

Many governments have set standards for reforestation efforts, but they often provide a lot of leeway.

In Wales, one of the most deforested countries in Europe, the government offers incentives for tree planting. But growers only need to include 25% native species to qualify for government subsidies. In Kenya and Brazil, rows of eucalyptus grow on land that was once ecologically rich forest and savannah. In Peru, a company called Reforesta Perú is planting trees on degraded Amazonian land, but it is increasingly using cloned eucalyptus and teak for export.

Investors prefer them because they bring better prices, said Enrique Toledo, managing director of Reforesta Perú. “These are well-known species internationally and there is an unmet demand for the timber.”

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