Forests Absorb One-Third of Fossil Fuel Emissions, Landmark Study Finds

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Forests play an even greater role in Earth’s climate system than previously known, according to the most comprehensive assessment yet of the carbon storage potential of the world’s wooded areas.

Between 1990 and 2007, the planet’s tropical, temperate, and boreal forests absorbed about 2.4 billion tons of carbon annually, or the equivalent of about one-third of fossil fuel emissions, and re-growth of trees in previously cleared lands absorbed an additional 1.6 billion tons, according to a study published in the journal Science.

During the same period, however, rampant deforestation — particularly in the world’s tropical regions — released 2.9 billion tons of carbon annually.

Overall, the planet’s forests provide a net carbon sink of about 1.1 billion tons of carbon, or the equivalent of about 13 percent of the emissions produced by humankind annually.

According to researchers, the findings suggest that forest protection should play an even more important role in strategies to protect the planet’s climate, including the emergence of carbon markets.

“The amount of savings which are up for grabs is very large, certainly larger than what we thought,” said Josep Canadell, an Australian scientist and co-author of the study.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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