Carbon Footprint Trail at the Bennachie Visitor Centre

October 2021

How does nature help us with climate change?

Carbon dioxide is food for plants. Plants capture CO2 from the air, zap it with sunlight and convert it into energy which they use to grow (photosynthesis). Big, fast-growing plants need more energy to grow, so they capture more CO2 food than smaller, slower-growing plants. Trees are a bit like us - when they are tiny seedings and saplings like small children, they don’t need much CO2 food, but fast-growing trees need loads of energy and loads of food like youths and young adults, but as they move into old age trees need less food.

Trees are very good at storing carbon. As woody plants, about 50% of a tree’s biomass is carbon mostly stored in the tree trunk and branches. Trees also pass carbon below ground to its roots and associated fungi and in the soil.

Non-woody plants don’t capture as much carbon dioxide as trees, but they too send carbon below ground into the soil where it is stored. Peat is especially good at storing carbon.

So are plants the solution to climate change? Sadly not, nature can’t capture and store all the greenhouse gases we’ve produced in recent years. Some researchers estimate that nature-based solutions can cope with about one third of emissions, but we’ll need to find other ways to remove greenhouse gases from the air. We would be wise to conserve all natural habitats, not only because we enjoy them, but also because plants are very good at capturing CO2 from the air far more efficiently than man-made technology.


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