A new study published in the journal Science Advances has offered a surprising glimmer of hope for the planet. According to the research, plants may be able to absorb more atmospheric CO2 from human activities than previously thought. While this news is undoubtedly positive, environmental scientists caution that this should not be taken as an excuse for governments to slow down on their efforts to reduce carbon emissions quickly.
The study was led by Dr. Jurgen Knauer at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University. The researchers found that a well-established climate model predicts a stronger and more sustained carbon absorption by plants until the end of the 21st century when accounting for critical physiological processes that govern photosynthesis. These processes include the efficiency with which carbon dioxide moves through leaves, how plants adapt to temperature changes, and how they distribute nutrients in their canopy. These mechanisms are often overlooked in global models but have a significant impact on a plant’s ability to fix carbon.
The study focused on photosynthesis, in which plants convert CO2 into sugars, serving as a natural climate change mitigator. However, while the beneficial effect of climate change on carbon uptake by vegetation may not last forever, it is still unclear how vegetation will respond in the future to CO2, temperature, and precipitation changes.
In their scientific modeling study, the researchers evaluated how carbon uptake by vegetation would respond to global climate change through the end of the 21st century under a high-emissions scenario. They found that more complex models incorporating plant physiological processes consistently projected stronger increases in carbon uptake by vegetation globally. The effects of these physiological processes reinforced each other, resulting in even stronger effects when taken into account together as they would happen in a real-world scenario.
While this news is undoubtedly positive, it is important to remember that reducing carbon emissions is still crucial if we want to mitigate climate change’s impact on our planet permanently.