Instead, Republicans in Congress will introduce legislation that seeks to plant one trillion trees by 2050 with the goal of sucking carbon out of the air – an approach that gives a nod to rising voter demand for action on climate change, but would not disrupt an historic shale oil drilling boom that has made the US the world’s biggest oil and gas producer.
President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt on the overwhelming body of science that attributes global warming to the human expansion of greenhouse gas emissions, had expressed support for the idea of a massive tree-planting campaign during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month.
“I’m working on legislation that would do just this: plant one trillion trees by 2050, with the goal of sequestering carbon and incentivising the use of wood products,” said Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, which is expected to unveil the bill.
Other elements of the plan, which will be released in additional bills over the coming weeks, will focus on sequestering carbon from power plants, recycling plastics and boosting “clean” energy, including natural gas and nuclear, according to congressional staff.
Democrats, including all the top presidential hopefuls in this year’s election, have made proposals for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels to help the US and other countries avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Environmentalists argue that focusing on planting trees while ignoring emission cuts from fossil fuels is counterproductive. An overwhelming majority of scientists believe emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change.
“Planting trees is good of course, but it is nowhere near enough of what is needed, and it cannot replace real mitigation and rewilding nature,” Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg said in Davos last month.
Nature-based carbon removal measures like tree planting have gained traction globally. Last July, for example, Ethiopia set a world record by planting more than 350 million trees in 12 hours as part of a green campaign by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
James Mulligan, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, said mass tree planting could reduce 180 million to 360 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2040 if implemented correctly.
“Funding is key,” he said, adding that the programme needs a “smart governance system”.