A new study published in Science Advances suggests that the world’s plants may absorb more atmospheric carbon dioxide from human activities than previously predicted. Despite this optimistic finding, environmental scientists are quick to stress that this 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 still uncertain 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 make 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 aimed to evaluate how vegetation carbon uptake would respond to global climate change until the end of the 21st century, using modeling aimed at testing a high-emissions climate scenario. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert carbon dioxide into sugars they use for growth and metabolism, acting as a natural mitigator of climate change by reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This greater absorption of carbon dioxide is what has contributed to the growing sink of terrestrial elements recorded in recent decades.
However, it remains unclear how vegetation will respond to changes in gas, temperature, and precipitation and how these changes will impact plant growth and metabolism. The study underscores the importance of conserving existing vegetation while also recognizing that simply planting more trees is not a silver bullet solution to mitigating climate change.