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08/01/2013

Can the Jatropha tree help with the climate change conundrum?

Desert

File photo of southern Kalahari desert in South Africa. (Getty Images.)

Can planting trees in the desert help save earth?

A group of German scientists say so. They have come up with an environmentally-friendly method they say could mitigate the impact of climate change. Dubbed carbon farming, it means planting trees in desert on a large scale to capture carbon dioxide.

They say Jatropha can do it the best.

Jatropha is a small tree resistant to aridity so it can be planted in hot and dry conditions.

The study showed that one hectare of Jatropha could capture up to 25 tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide every year over 20 years. A plantation that takes up only about three per cent of the Arabian desert, for instance, could absorb in a couple of decades all the carbon dioxide produced by vehicles in Germany over the same period.

With as much as one billion hectares suitable for carbon farming, the method could sequester a significant portion of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, says the study.

The researchers based these estimates on Jatropha trees currently growing in trial plots in Egypt and in the Negev desert.

But Jatropha isn’t just good for one thing: while the tree soaks up carbon dioxide, it will also help make desert areas more habitable, and the plants seeds can be harvested for biofuel, says the study.

(It is already being grown for biofuel in many parts of the world.)

Jatropha, though, has its critics. They point that the tree is highly toxic and can pollute the land it is grown on, even a desert.

The study was published in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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