A new study published in the international journal “Science Advances” has provided a positive outlook for the planet. According to Dr. Jurgen Knauer, who led the research team at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at the Western Sydney University, plants may be able to absorb more atmospheric CO2 from human activities than previously expected. However, environmental scientists emphasize that this should not be seen as an excuse for governments to slow down on their obligations to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
The study 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 ignored in global models but have a significant impact on a plant’s ability to fix carbon.
The study focused on the process of 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 in combination, as would happen in a real-world scenario.