CO2 fertilisation boosting plant growth globally, say researchers

Higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are stimulating plant and tree growth worldwide, but researchers who made the finding believe the effect will only be temporary.

Image: US Forest Service
Image: US Forest Service

The study, by a team of 32 authors from 24 institutions in eight countries, including the universities of Exeter, Birmingham and Imperial College London, is based on data from recorders on US satellites over the past 33 years, and is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

It identifies "persistent and widespread" greening on between a quarter and a half of the Earth's vegetated land, which is slowing the pace of climate change as plants are draw more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

The study also identifies climate change, higher nitrogen levels and changes in land management as contributing to the effect.

The beneficial aspect of CO2 fertilisation in promoting plant growth has been put forward by climate change sceptics such as Lord (Matt) Ridley to argue against cuts in carbon emissions.

But the study's co-author Dr Philippe Ciais, associate director of the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France, said: "The fallacy of the contrarian argument is two-fold. First, the many negative aspects of climate change, namely global warming, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and sea ice, more severe tropical storms, are not acknowledged.

"Second, studies have shown that plants acclimatise, or adjust, to rising CO2 concentration and the fertilisation effect diminishes over time."

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