The new research published in the international journal “Science Advances” suggests that plants may be able to absorb more atmospheric CO2 from human activities than previously expected. This optimistic news, however, should not be interpreted as a reason for governments to slow down on their obligations to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
Dr. Jurgen Knauer led the research team at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University, Australia. Their study focused on the impact of critical physiological processes that govern how plants conduct photosynthesis, such as the efficiency of carbon dioxide movement inside leaves, plant adaptation to temperature changes, and nutrient distribution in plant canopies. These mechanisms are commonly ignored in most global models.
Photosynthesis is the process in which plants convert CO2 into sugars, serving as a natural climate change mitigator. It is unclear how vegetation will respond to changes in CO2 levels, temperature, and precipitation in the future. The study evaluated a high-emissions climate scenario to test how carbon uptake by vegetation would respond to global climate change through the end of the 21st century.
The results of the study showed that more complex models, which took into account critical physiological mechanisms associated with photosynthesis, consistently projected stronger increases in carbon uptake by vegetation globally. These processes reinforced each other and would have even stronger effects in a real-world scenario. This suggests that plants may have a greater capacity to mitigate the effects of climate change than previously thought.