734 Trees: How Many You’d Have to Plant to Offset Your Carbon Footprint

By Jazmin Murphy | Updated on September 2, 2021

The number of trees you’d have to plant to offset your carbon emissions depends on your carbon footprint… But not everyone emits the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Several factors influence what you pump into the atmosphere, from big picture things like your home country’s power supply profile, to little decisions like whether you commute by bike or car.

So, to determine how many trees you’ll need to neutralize your emissions, you’ll need to consider all your energy-consuming activities in the context of where you live, and calculate the corresponding GHGs released. Once you’ve got those numbers, all you need to do is determine how many trees it takes to sequester the GHGs to start saving the planet.

 An image of rows of tree saplings with men working in Brazil with 8 Billion Trees watermark.

What’s Your Carbon Footprint?

The region you live in plays a central role in your individual, or “per capita,” footprint. For example, the most recent data from The World Bank shows that citizens of the Global North (mostly Northern Hemisphere countries above the Brandt Line, which separates affluent and developing nations) have higher carbon footprints than their neighbors in the South.1,2

Many countries in this geographic region have per capita carbon footprints higher than nine metric tons (about ten tons) per year. Nearly all of them exceed 2 tons per person. Some of the most carbon-intensive nations, each with citizens emitting an average of 10.63-18.34 tons of CO2 yearly, include:1

  • The United States of America
  • Canada
  • Russian Federation
  • Luxembourg
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Oman
  • Australia

Three nations exceed all these, their citizens releasing an average of >18.34 tons of CO2 each year:1 Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates.

Of course, where you live does not fully determine your footprint. An individual carbon footprint is complex, composed of, but not limited to:11

  • Transportation (driving, travel via planes, taking public transportation)
  • Your shopping and spending habits
  • Your food choices, and how much you waste
  • Your home energy use (laundry, electricity, heating and cooling)

Now, your location doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to emit these high totals per year. You might be one of the most eco-friendly people in your neighborhood regarding your diet, travel habits, and shopping choices. Yet, there are some facets of a geographically dependent carbon footprint that you can’t escape. Those are the ones you cannot control yourself, and therefore will need to offset.

Consider the Type of Power You Use

The resources used to power your local energy grid are key determinants of what your carbon footprint will be. For instance, if you happen to live in an area that depends mostly on water or wind farms, you’re certainly contributing fewer GHGs than your neighbors using coal.

With that said, you’ll need to do some background research into your municipality to get a feel for your “energy profile” (the combination of fuel types you use for various energy-consuming activities).

Unfortunately, the nations with the highest per capita carbon footprints also rely on some of the most environmentally destructive energy sources. For example, the United States’ energy profile consists of fossil fuels, mainly.3

As of 2019, these account for 83.26 percent of all energy the country uses. Still, there is a silver lining. Low-carbon (nuclear and renewable power, except for biofuels) sources are on the rise, supplying 16.74 percent of the nation’s energy in 2019.3

Still, living in the United States doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a massive carbon emitter. For instance, people who live in California have a drastically different footprint than residents of Texas, since renewables supply 16.4 percent of the state’s total energy consumption.4

On the other hand, Texas, the country’s “largest energy-producing and energy-consuming state,” relies even more heavily on renewable resources. Wind supplied one-fifth of all utility-scale, meaning one megawatt or larger, in-state electricity generation.5 This may cause some people’s carbon footprint to be smaller than others in California, depending on what other factors come into play for their individual footprint.

This is true in other parts of the world, too. Take a look at the United Kingdom. Per capita footprints have been trending downward since the early 2000s. This may be because coal use has drastically fallen in recent years, while renewable sources like wind, hydropower, solar, and biofuels have gained a much more significant role in the country’s power consumption.6

A view if wind turbines on top of a mountain in California, with an 8 Billion Tree watermark.

 

However, there are differences between each region’s energy use. In 2017, this was how all regions of the UK compared to one another in terms of renewable energy capacity:7

  • Between 2014-2017, England’s capacity grew by 71 percent
  • Scotland, 39 percent
  • Wales, 75 percent
  • Northern Ireland, 92 percent

Since some nations’ sustainable energy shares have advanced much more quickly than others, local residents’ carbon footprints are bound to vary.
These facets of your carbon footprint calculation are pretty general. So, you’ll need to do more calculations based on your unique lifestyle to discover the appropriate number of trees for offsetting your impact.

These facets of your carbon footprint calculation are pretty general. So, you’ll need to do more calculations based on your unique lifestyle to discover the appropriate number of trees for offsetting your impact. 

Why Planting the Right Number of Trees Will Help Offset Your Emissions

Planting trees is one of the best things you can do to mitigate your emissions. In a general sense, many refer to this practice as “forestation,” a type of nature-based climate solution.

There are three primary types of forestation, each of which is uniquely beneficial to the climate fight. These are:8

  • Forest restoration: These projects help degraded forests recover their structures, ecological functionality, and biodiversity.
  • Reforestation: This involves planting trees or allowing trees to regrow naturally in previously forested areas.
  • Afforestation: Projects that plant trees in areas that were not previously forested fall into this category.

An 8 Billion Trees graphic showing how trees can save the planet by sequestering carbon dioxide.

Forestry carbon offset projects are, quite possibly, some of the most powerful tools humanity has to slow or stop the effects of climate change. They have massive carbon sequestering capacities, meaning they can absorb more carbon dioxide than most plants and habitat types on the planet.

Research has shown that forests removed the equivalent of about one-third of all fossil fuel emissions yearly between 2009 and 2018.9

As carbon dioxide removal and mitigation gets more important in the ongoing climate challenge, trees will be an increasingly vital component of sustainable programs globally. This leads to their individual carbon dioxide absorption abilities.

According to Trees for the Future, one tree in a tropical climate can sequester an average 50 lbs of CO2 per year. However, how fast the tree gets rid of the CO2 depends on several factors:10

  • Species
  • Where it’s planted
  • Soil conditions
  • Wood density

The tree reaches its maximum carbon sequestering capacity over the ages of 20-50 years old.10

Now, consider the total GHGs you might emit throughout one year. If you’re in the Global North, your emissions likely fall between 5.10-9.64 metric tons (5.62-10.63 tons) to 9.64-16.64 metric tons (10.63-18.34 tons) annually. On the other hand, the average person in the Global South would probably produce less than 5.62 tons CO2 each year.1

Based on these estimates, most people worldwide would need to plant this many trees to offset their yearly carbon emissions entirely:

  • Global North, high range: To offset 21,260-36,680 lbs of CO2, you’d need to plant about 425-734 trees.
  • Global North, low range: Offsetting 11,240-21,260 lbs of CO2 requires 225-734 trees.
  • Global South: Any emissions that are equal to or less than 11,240 lbs of CO2 would require less than 225 trees for thorough offsetting.

An image of small sprouting tree samplings at a nursery in Brazil, with an 8 Billion Tree watermark.
Start Planting Trees Now to Minimize Your Impact

Hundreds of trees. That’s how much it takes to offset just one person’s carbon footprint, whether you’re in the Global South, where emissions tend to be lower, or in the Global North, where per capita footprints run high.
This may seem like a daunting figure… But you’d be surprised what you can accomplish when people worldwide work together, each making small, yet transformative changes in their lives.

Calculate your carbon footprint now to find out how many trees you’d need to plant to offset your impact through afforestation projects worldwide.

 


References

1The World Bank. (n.d.). CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita). https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?view=map

2Royal Geographical Society, & Institute of British Geographers. (n.d.). A 60-second guide to… the Global North/South Divide. https://www.rgs.org/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?nodeguid=9c1ce781-9117-4741-af0a-a6a8b75f32b4&lang=en-GB

3Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2020). United States: Energy country profile. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/energy/country/united-states

4U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2021, February 18). California state energy profile. https://www.eia.gov/state/print.php?sid=CA

5U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2021, April 15). Texas: State profile and energy estimates. Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=TX

6Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2020). United Kingdom: Energy country profile. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/energy/country/united-kingdom

7United Kingdom Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. (2018). Electricity generation and supply figures for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, 2014-2017. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/770768/Regional_Electricity_Generation_and_Supply.pdf

8American University, Washington, DC: School of International Service. (2020, June 24). Fact sheet: Forestation & carbon removal. https://www.american.edu/sis/centers/carbon-removal/fact-sheet-forestation.cfm

9Mildrexler, D. J., Berner, L. T., Law, B. E., Birdsey, R. A., & Moomaw, W. R. (2020). Large trees dominate carbon storage in forests east of the Cascade crest in the United States Pacific Northwest. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/ffgc.2020.594274

10The University of New Mexico. (n.d.). How to calculate the amount of CO2 sequestered in a tree per year [PDF]. https://www.unm.edu/~jbrink/365/Documents/Calculating_tree_carbon.pdf

11“Household Carbon Footprint Calculator.” Climate Change | US EPA, 2 Apr. 2015, https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator.