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Is hemp the answer to combatting climate change?

Research suggests that the fast-growing plant is twice as effective as trees at sequestering carbon, offering a promising solution to mitigating the environmental crisis’ impacts.

When mulling over how we’ll ever solve the ongoing environmental crisis, it’s likely your mind will jump to options such as renewable energy, sustainable transport, or reducing plastic consumption.

Unless you’re an advocate for a particular type of green, it’s unlikely you’ve considered hemp as the answer to combatting climate change.

But according to new research which suggests that the fast-growing plant is twice as effective as trees at absorbing and locking up carbon, this might well be the case.

‘Numerous studies have found that hemp is one of the best converters of carbon dioxide – even more effective than trees,’ says Darshil Shah of the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at Cambridge University, who led the study.

‘Offering an incredible scope to grow a better future, industrial hemp absorbs between 8 to 15 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (3 to 6 tonnes per acre) of cultivation.’

To compare, forests capture around 2 to 6 tonnes of carbon per hectare (0.8 to 2.4 tonnes per acre), depending on the region, number of years of growth, type of trees, and other factors.

Hemp, on the other hand, is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world and can grow four metres high in 100 days.

It additionally produces fewer emissions than conventional crops, more usable fibres per hectare than forestry, and after permanently storing CO2 in its fibres, can be used for numerous commodities including textiles, medicines, and as insulation for buildings or concrete.

‘Hemp is a terrific crop that enables us to tackle a multitude of human-generated environmental problems – air, soil and water for example – whilst being productive in offering us food, medicine and materials,’ says Tommy Corbyn, co-founder of the National Hemp Service.

Explaining how the plant has the potential to help solve a wide variety of issues, he adds that as well as absorbing carbon, hemp regenerates the soil it grows in, cleaning it of heavy metals and toxins left behind from other crops.

‘Now more than ever we need to take immediate action to address climate change, stimulate our job market and the economy. An increase in hemp farming is one way we can tackle all of those things at once.’

As Corbyn stresses, growing hemp has huge potential, but of course it depends how it’s done.

Though outdoor farming is the most environmentally-friendly method, especially as no pesticides are needed, hemp has unfortunately been forced underground due to its ties with illegal cannabis production.

Thus, making serious inroads on reducing emissions may take a while.

So until hemp’s reputation begins being defined by its benefits as ‘nature’s purifier,’ experts will need to keep exploring this promising step towards a net-zero future.