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Forests will be our allies in the fight against climate change

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has provided a globally consistent dataset which identifies opportunities for land-based carbon removal to address the current climate crisis, while building an actionable framework to facilitate climate-smart restoration land management strategies. 

“From forests to soils, terrestrial ecosystems store enormous amounts of carbon globally, and are capable of storing even more,” said study lead author Wayne Walker, Carbon Program Director at Woodwell Climate Research Center. “But realizing the untapped potential of land to aid in addressing the climate crisis means understanding how much storage space is available, where in the world that space is located, and what actions can be taken in those places to take advantage of the opportunity they offer as rapidly as possible. This study provides the data and conceptual framework for doing that.”

The team used a series of new geospatial maps which improve our understanding of the global gap between the current and the potential carbon storage on land. Dr. Walker and his colleagues quantified the unrealized potential carbon storage of both above- and below-ground woody biomass and soil organic carbon. 

Through this method they identified 287 petagrams of untapped carbon storage, with 78 percent of it located in woody biomass, and the remaining 22 percent in soils – across temperate, tropical, and boreal climate regions. There is thus a massive potential for expanding land-based carbon capture through the restoration, maintenance, and improved management of forests.

“Forest stewardship represents the greatest opportunity for realizing carbon removal and storage in the near term, and the urgency of the climate crisis demands that we prioritize these efforts,” said study co-author Peter Ellis, Global Director of Natural Climate Solutions Science at The Nature Conservancy. “Our research shows that after safeguarding lands required for food production and human habitation, improved management of forests and other woody systems – particularly degraded forests across the global tropics – offers tremendous climate mitigation potential.” 

As scientists work with stakeholders to prioritize and design forest restoration efforts, it is imperative for them to consider the spatially explicit predicted climate conditions, costs, and implications for local human wellbeing these activities have, and to construct globally consistent frameworks to efficiently address current gaps and inform landscape-level planning.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer 

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