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Can planting trees really help fight climate change? – Bill Gates: ‘I don’t plant trees’ – ‘Are we the science people or are we the idiots?’

Bill Gates is emphatic. “I don’t plant trees,” he declared recently, wading into a debate about whether mass tree planting is really much use in fighting climate change.

The billionaire philanthropist was being probed on how he offsets his carbon emissions and insisted he avoids “some of the less proven approaches”.

The claim that planting enough trees could solve the climate crisis is “complete nonsense”, he told a climate discussion organised by The New York Times last week.

“Are we the science people or are we the idiots?”

Gates’s polemical pronouncements made headlines and prompted criticism from backers of reforestation (planting trees in damaged forests) and afforestation (planting in areas that were not recently forest).

“I have dedicated the last 16 years of my life to making forests part of the climate solution,” wrote Jad Daley, head of the American Forests NGO.

“This kind of commentary can really set us back,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Mass tree planting schemes have been gaining ground for years as a way to suck carbon from the atmosphere at scale.