Why are trees important to the environment?

By Katie Zakrzewski

When CCL announced our policy expansion in December of 2022, one of the four new areas we decided to explore was healthy forests. But you may be wondering — why are trees important to the environment? 


Trees clean up air pollution

Climate change is the trapping of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, causing dozens of negative effects on the planet’s health, as well as the health of all living things on our planet. One of those greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, or CO2. Excessive amounts of this greenhouse gas have raised the global temperature across the planet. Air pollution, caused by climate change, is often responsible for many negative health conditions and diagnoses across the world. 

Fortunately, healthy forests and trees act to absorb air pollution caused by climate change. When dirty atmospheric particles land on the surface of a tree or leaf, they are removed from the atmosphere and absorbed by the plant. This is also the case for the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, leaves absorb carbon dioxide to feed cells, in turn producing oxygen. Each year, American forests pull the equivalent of 12% of America’s carbon pollution out of the air. It’s estimated American forests and trees are able to reduce emissions by up to 22% by 2030. 


Trees keep wildlife healthy

Trees also help wildlife by providing materials to eat and build a home. Trees provide a home for many animals, such as birds and squirrels and other forest-dwelling creatures. Beavers are even well known for cutting down trees to build dams and other important wildlife structures. These structures create a safe environment for animals to reproduce and hide from predators. Some animals, such as birds and deer, might even eat foliage or nuts and berries produced by trees.


Trees fight climate change overall

Climate change has caused excessive heat to get trapped in our atmosphere, severely elevating temperatures. In some American cities, due to historic discriminatory policies, trees are often sparse in neighborhoods with more low-income families and people of color. On hot days, these neighborhoods can experience temperatures more than 15°F hotter than wealthier neighborhoods in the same city. Trees cool us and our communities, and planting more of them is the cheapest, fastest, and most effective way to directly lower temperatures and save lives in cities. Adequate tree coverage can reduce temperatures as much as 10°F. 

For this same reason, trees help lower the city-wide strain on electrical grids. A heat-triggered power outage in a major city could leave millions at risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Because trees help keep things cooler, they reduce air conditioning usage and the risk of a major power failure. 


How do we support trees and their impact?

Fortunately, Citizens’ Climate Lobby supports trees and their impact through our policies and advocacy work. We support policies that:


Sign up to help preserve our urban forests


Oftentimes, the best urban forest and tree equity policies are local or state initiatives. To bring this issue to light, CCL advocates for increasing urban forests by supporting local groups and community leads with tree-planting initiatives and helping local communities take advantage of available funding for tree planting.

We support the following policies currently in Congress:

  • The FOREST Act – Fights deforestation worldwide by restricting the importation of products made of commodities produced on land undergoing illegal deforestation.
  • The Growing Climate Solutions Act – Facilitates the participation of farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners in voluntary environmental credit markets.


Learn more about the benefits of trees and preserving our forests to fight climate change


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Video: Trees and Forests as Natural Climate Solutions


Katie Zakrzewski, CCL Communications Coordinator, is an avid reader, writer and policy wonk. With published pieces, as well as podcast and radio appearances spanning the country, Zakrzewski looks forward to using her talents to create a healthier planet of tomorrow.