We have already passed the threshold for the atmospheric carbon dioxide our planet can handle. Cutting emissions by transforming our energy, transport and food systems - while stopping razing forests - is not enough. We also need to remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. The only scientifically proven way to do this is by restoring natural biologically diverse forests, and nurturing trees on agricultural land. This has to be done in harmony with the people who live in and depend on forests. Respecting local customary land needs and rights will help people, wildlife and our climate.

What do Fern and our partners want? 

The EU and its Member States must set national targets to restore forests and enshrine them in the EU’s climate and biodiversity policies. Local people and civil society must be consulted in their design and implementation.

The same is true of international restoration efforts, we don’t need to just plant trillions of trees, we need to work with communities to restore degraded forests.

What are we doing? 

Working with forest, climate and human rights experts to campaign for forest restoration that benefits people, the climate and wildlife.

What are negative emissions?

Negative Emissions is one of the terms used by climate scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for activities that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Other terms include Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR). 

To avoid the climate crisis, the absolute priority is that all sectors of the economy radically and rapidly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible. However, there is scientific consensus that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, a globally agreed target, will also require removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, hence the need to talk about negative emissions. Scientists are currently debating just how much forests can remove, but we can and must do more to deliver healthy forests in Europe. 

Read more on negative emissions

Can tree planting solve climate change?

No, tree planting cannot solve climate change. 
Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis, in which they use sunlight to convert that CO2 into the sugars and energy they need to grow. The carbon is stored in biomass – the trunk, roots and leaves – as well as in the soil. Planting trees could therefore help mitigate climate breakdown, since they absorb CO2 as they grow, and the carbon remains stored until the wood decomposes or is burnt.  
Tree planting will not, however, help the climate if trees are then cut down and burnt for energy; trees are planted in a way that doesn’t consider local biodiversity needs; trees are planted instead of reducing CO2 emissions (offsetting); tree planting diverts attention from the need to protect existing, mature forests.

Biodiverse tree planting can contribute to addressing the climate emergency, but only if we also reduce emissions and protect and restore existing forests. 

Read more on tree planting

How to achieve forest restoration?

Restoration means returning a forest ecosystem to a previous, healthy state. In a biodiverse natural forest, there are a range of trees of different ages.  

The forest keeps re-generating naturally and supports a complex web of flora and fauna. If a forest has been degraded - for example through clearcutting - it may be possible to bring it back to a healthy state.  

Planting new trees can be part of this, as long as native trees are prioritised, and there is a range of species to ensure biodiversity is maintained. Forests can be restored in different ways including moving from clearcutting and planting monocultures to community forestry, close-to-nature forestry, or ‘setting aside’ land, with community support, to allow the forest to regenerate on its own without any interference How to achieve forest restoration? 

Read more on forest restoration


What’s the difference between restoration, reforestation and afforestation?

  • Restoration is returning a forest ecosystem to a previous, healthy state. 

  • Reforestation refers to the planting of trees on deforested lands. 

  • Afforestation refers to planting trees on land which, historically, has not contained forests.  

May 2020

The EU launches its Biodiversity Strategy, which call for binding EU nature restoration targets by 2021 to restore healthy and resilient ecosystems, including carbon-rich old-growth and primary forests.

March 2020

The European Commission European Climate Law proposal recognises that in addition to cutting emissions, the EU will have to remove some already in the atmosphere.

October 2018

The Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA), of which Fern is a member, details how the land sector can help meet climate targets, including by restoring ecosystems.

September 2011

Germany and the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) launch the Bonn Challenge, a global initiative to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

Who’s involved?

Fern works with forest, climate and human rights experts to ensure our work benefits people, the climate and biodiversity.

Together we can strengthen community land rights and achieve biodiverse restoration projects which store carbon for the long-term.

Read our principles on rights-based restoration 

Find out why forest restoration is best done with the full participation of local communities:

Read our principles

Climate solutions need to put people and forests first 

Find out how sustainable and community-led forestry can help tackle climate change:

Globally In Europe In France

Kelsey Perlman

Kelsey Perlman

Forest and Climate Campaigner

Alexandra Benjamin

Alexandra Benjamin

Forest Governance Campaigner

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