According to the conclusions of a new research paper published in the latest issue of the top journal Science, it would appear that the world's forests are capable of absorbing about one third all carbon dioxide emissions we put into the atmosphere ever year.
That amount is equivalent to about 8.8 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. The study contains some good news and some bad news, and the latter unfortunately top the former in terms of importance.
One of the good news is that trees which regrew between 1990 and 2007 managed to remove an additionally 6 billion tonnes of the dangerous greenhouse gas during this interval. The trees returned to their former glory due to sporadic conservation efforts.
The bad news that tops this is that massive, widespread deforestation – especially near the tropics – put an additional 10.8 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere during the same interval. As such, the increase in forest absorption rates were covered for nearly twice over.
During the same interval, global GHG emissions by an average of 28 billion tonnes of CO2 annually.
What this study is suggesting is that forests in tropical, temperate and boreal climate areas need to be protected now more than ever. It could be that they play a much more significant role in Earth's carbon cycle than researchers previously calculated.
It's only by protecting the world's forests and oceans that the severity of future climate change and global warming can be reduced to a level where we might stand a chance of dealing with it.
“Humans are altering the world's forests in a number of ways, from their outright destruction to the much more subtle impacts on even the most remote forests caused by global changes to the environment,” explains Dr. Simon Lewis.
The investigator, a coauthor of the new research paper, holds an appointment as a tropical ecologist at the University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom. The international collaboration of experts that conducted the study was led by Dr Yude Pan, who is based at the United States Forest Service.
“Our research shows these changes are having globally important impacts, which highlights the critical role forests play in the global cycling of carbon and therefore the speed and severity of future climate change,” Lewis explains.
“The practical importance of this new information is that if schemes to reduce deforestation are successful they would have significant positive global impacts, as would similar efforts promoting forest restoration,” he concludes.