What Can Bamboo Do About CO2?

Efforts to thoroughly study the role that plants play in climate change mitigation are increasing. Most researchers focus on the promise of large, leafy forest trees to help remove carbon from the atmosphere. This is because, generally speaking, the bigger the plant, the more CO2 it absorbs – and trees are the most obvious large plant species. However, there are some very large non-tree plants in the world and increasing evidence points to a surprising grassy climate change warrior: bamboo.

One species of bamboo, the Guadua Angustifolia, found in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia, has been shown to grow up to 25 meters in height and 22 centimeters in diameter, with each plant weighing up to 100 kilograms. This doesn’t match the stature of many trees, but it is still big enough to be significant. It is not all about size, however. How fast a plant grows has a part in determining how much CO2 it can absorb in a given time. In this respect, bamboo wins hands-down: it grows faster than many trees, growing up to 1.2 meters per day. In fact, bamboo holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s fastest growing plant.

Bamboo’s other advantage is that it has great strength and flexibility, making it an ideal low-cost building material in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, areas where it is native. This means that bamboo in a plantation can regularly be chopped down and used to build houses and other structures, where the carbon remains sequestered for an average of 80 years, and that the plantation will recover quickly due to the fast growth rate. Because of this, the World Bank recently financed a project in Ecuador proposed by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), an intergovernmental organization dedicated to improving the livelihoods of the poor producers and users of bamboo and rattan. The project is called ‘Elevated bamboo houses to protect communities in flood zones’ and has so far succeeded in developing and implementing techniques to construct ecological flood-resistant housing for low-income families using a type of bamboo that is native to Ecuador.