Forestry will play a critical role in slowing global warming
June 12, 2008

While reducing deforestation and forest degradation would pay great dividends in the fight against global climate change by eliminating up to a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, other mechanisms can also enhance the capacity of forests to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, show researchers writing in this week's issue of the journal Science.

In addition to reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation — a concept that has won accolades from conservationists and economists — Josep Canadell and Michael Raupach of CSIRO's Global Carbon Project suggest three strategies to mitigate carbon emissions through forestry activities: increasing forested land area through reforestation, bolstering the carbon density of existing forests, and expanding the use of forest products that sustainably replace emissions from fossil-fuels.

"Forests currently absorb billions of tons of CO2 globally every year, an economic subsidy worth hundreds of billions of dollars if an equivalent sink had to be created in other ways," write the authors. "Concerns about the permanency of forest carbon stocks, difficulties in quantifying stock changes, and the threat of environmental and socioeconomic impacts of large-scale reforestation programs have limited the uptake of forestry activities in climate policies [but] with political will and the involvement of tropical regions, forests can contribute to climate change protection through carbon sequestration as well as offering economic, environmental, and sociocultural benefits."

Noting that 13 million hectares of forest are felled each year, releasing 1.5 billion tons of carbon, Canadell and Raupach write that reducing deforestation rates by 50 percent by 2050 and stopping deforestation when countries reach 50 percent of their current forested area would avoid emissions equivalent to 50 billion tons of carbon.

"This '50:50:50:50' estimate shows that even with continuing deforestation over the next 40 years, the mitigation potential is large, in addition to protecting the sink capacity of forest for continued removal of atmospheric CO2."

While there will be challenges with governance, Canadell and Raupach say that sustainability should be a guiding principle in forestry going forward.

"Forestry, and reforestation in particular— like any large-scale transformation of land use patterns—can lead to unintended environmental and socioeconomic impacts that could jeopardize the overall value of carbon mitigation projects," they write. "However, well-directed carbon sequestration projects, along with the provision of sustainably produced timber, fiber, and energy, will yield numerous benefits, including additional income for rural development, prospects for conservation and other environmental services, and support for indigenous communities... Principles of sustainability must govern the resolution of trade-offs that may arise from ancillary effects in order to simultaneously maximize climate change protection and sustainable development."

Josep Canadell and Michael Raupach (2008). Managing Forests for Climate Change Mitigation. 13 JUNE 2008 VOL 320 SCIENCE

CITATION: (June 12, 2008).

Forestry will play a critical role in slowing global warming.