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Regenerate Natural Forests to Store Carbon

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Regenerate Natural Forests to Store Carbon

Plans to triple the area of plantations will not meet 1.5 °C climate goals. New natural forests can, argue Simon L. Lewis, Charlotte E. Wheeler and colleagues.


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In their effort to combat climate change, global reforestation efforts are not what they seem. 

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  • Scientific
  • Eye Opening
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Conventional wisdom holds that any new tree planted will contribute to global climate mitigation efforts, and that restoring the world’s forests is an adequate response to climate change. But the situation is not so simple, explains a team of scientists in Nature. Policy makers are misleading the public when they classify new commodity tree plantations as being part of climate-related reforestation efforts. Their research will give pause to anyone who has so far taken global reforestation pledges at face value, and will help focus the efforts of anyone concerned with mitigating climate change.


Reforestation must play a role in keeping global warming below the 1.5°C (2.7°F) threshold.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has calculated that the world would need to remove 730 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2100 to avert catastrophic climate change. Reforestation efforts could take care of one-fourth of the CO2 that needs to be removed, provided that the world grows 24 million hectares of new forest per year over the next decade.

Under the Bonn Challenge and other initiatives, 43 countries in tropical and subtropical areas have pledged to plant trees across a total surface area of almost 300 million hectares.

Tree planting efforts in areas near the Equator are particularly significant: land there...

About the Authors

Simon L. Lewis is professor of global change science in the Department of Geography, University College London. Charlotte E. Wheeler is a forest researcher at the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, UK. Edward T. A. Mitchard is senior lecturer in forest-change mapping at the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, UK. Alexander Koch recently obtained a PhD from the Department of Geography, University College London, on forests and the global carbon cycle.

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    J. K. 2 years ago
    "Although commodity trees absorb carbon while they grow, the carbon is released again upon their harvest." This is only true if the trees are burned for fuel. or used for toilet paper. Trees converted to durable goods like furniture and houses will actually stabilize carbon for a longer period than leaving the trees to mature, die, and decompose to CO2 and H2O.