According to a recent study, allowing forests to age can help them store a significant amount of carbon.
A recent study suggests that reducing greenhouse gas emissions could greatly benefit efforts to combat the climate crisis through forest conservation and restoration.
According to researchers, if we let mature trees thrive in undisturbed environments and repair damaged land, we could store 226 gigatonnes of carbon. This is equal to approximately 50 years of emissions from the US in 2022. However, they warn that relying on large-scale planting of single species and carbon offsetting will not allow forests to reach their full capacity.
Approximately 50% of the world’s forests have been cleared by humans, and destruction of crucial areas like the Amazon rainforest and the Congo basin continues to impact the Earth’s atmosphere.
According to a collaborative effort among numerous forest experts, a study recently published in the journal Nature suggests that forests in low human-impact regions have the potential to significantly reduce carbon levels. This is especially true in non-urban agricultural areas where forests are able to thrive.
Protecting existing forests could result in a 61% potential fulfillment, similar to the Białowieża forest in Poland and Belarus or California’s sequoia groves, which have thrived for centuries. The remaining 39% could be reached by restoring fragmented forests and previously cleared areas.
In light of concerns about greenwashing and the impact of nature on mitigating the climate crisis, the researchers emphasized the significance of biodiversity in helping forests reach their full potential for carbon drawdown. They cautioned against relying solely on planting large quantities of a single species and stressed the urgent need for reductions in fossil fuel emissions.
According to the study’s lead author, Lidong Mo, the increasing instances of forest fires and hotter temperatures caused by the climate emergency are expected to decrease potential. They also noted that a majority of the world’s forests are severely damaged, with only a small number of old growth forests remaining on the planet. To preserve global biodiversity, halting deforestation should be a primary concern.
During the Cop26 conference in 2021, global leaders promised to stop and undo deforestation by the end of the decade. However, current data indicates that many countries are not on track to meet this goal. Some nations, such as Brazil, Colombia, and Indonesia, have shown progress in this area. The researchers emphasized that achieving this target, as well as fulfilling UN climate and biodiversity agreements, is vital for forests to reach their maximum potential.
“According to Tom Crowther, director of the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich, the combination of preserving forests, halting deforestation, and empowering local communities can potentially capture 61% of our total potential. This has the potential to significantly change our perspective on forest conservation – it’s not just about reducing emissions, but also about actively removing carbon. Crowther emphasized the need for numerous projects and initiatives to protect and restore forests.”
This goal can be accomplished through the efforts of numerous local communities, Indigenous groups, farmers, and foresters who actively support biodiversity. This can involve practices such as agroforestry for crops like cacao, coffee, or bananas, as well as natural regeneration, rewilding, and creating corridors for habitats. These efforts prove successful when nature is seen as the preferred economic option. While challenging, this goal is achievable.
In 2019, a paper was published by Crowther and colleagues regarding the role of forests in addressing the climate crisis. This paper sparked significant discussion among forest ecologists. The findings of this research also led to increased efforts by corporations to protect forests, and even gained recognition from former President Donald Trump for promoting tree-planting initiatives.
Some scientists believed that the role of nature in achieving climate objectives had been exaggerated. The paper recommended the implementation of large-scale tree-planting, which raised concerns about greenwashing.
According to Simon Lewis, a professor at University College London, who previously expressed criticism of the 2019 paper, the updated estimate is now more practical and cautious.
Many people talk about the benefits of trees for the environment, but it’s important to ask how much carbon a hectare of land can absorb over a certain period of time. The exaggeration surrounding the impact of trees on the climate will likely persist, but there is a limited amount of land available for forests and trees can only absorb a certain amount of carbon. The truth is, we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, stop deforestation, and restore ecosystems in order to stabilize the climate according to the Paris agreement.
Crowther admitted to being overly enthusiastic in the communication surrounding the 2019 paper.
“I was once a passionate 30-year-old when I talked to the media and expressed my belief in the immense potential of restoration. However, I now realize that to those not knowledgeable in ecology, it may sound like I am simply promoting tree planting,” he stated.
Many people interpreted the large amount of carbon present in the study as a suggestion that planting trees could replace cutting emissions. However, this is not possible.
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