Republican lawmakers on Wednesday will propose legislation setting a goal for the United States to plant a trillion trees by 2050 to fight global warming, a plan intended to address climate change by sucking carbon out of the air instead of by cutting emissions.
The proposed legislation reflects an acknowledgement in the Republican party of rising voter demand for action on climate change, even as it seeks to preserve the economic benefits of an historic drilling boom that has made the United States the world's biggest oil and gas producer.
President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt on the science of climate change, had expressed support for the idea of a massive tree-planting campaign during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.
"I'm working on legislation that would do just this: plant 1 trillion trees by 2050, with the goal of sequestering carbon and incentivizing 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 United States 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 over 350 million trees in 12 hours as part of a green campaign by Prime Minister Aiby Ahmed.
James Mulligan, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, said mass tree planting could reduce 180 million–360 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2040 if implemented correctly.
"Funding is key," he said, adding that the program needs a "smart governance system."