• Recent research found that 20 different “natural climate solutions” have the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 23.8 billion metric tons every year — and that nearly half of that potential, or some 11.3 billion metric tons of emissions, represent what the study’s authors call “cost-effective climate mitigation.”
  • The World Resources Institute’s Susan Minnemeyer, a co-author of the study, noted in a blog post that halting deforestation, restoring forests that have already been logged or degraded, and improving forest management could cost-effectively remove seven billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere every year, which is equivalent to the annual emissions generated by 1.5 billion cars.
  • This study joins a growing body of research that demonstrates just how crucial forests will be to our efforts to halt global warming.

Recent research found that 20 different “natural climate solutions” have the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 23.8 billion metric tons every year — and that nearly half of that potential, or some 11.3 billion metric tons of emissions, represent what the study’s authors call “cost-effective climate mitigation.”

The researchers behind the study defined “cost-effective” as including those relatively low-cost natural climate solutions that require less than $100 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions reduction per year. As Susan Minnemeyer, a mapping and data manager for the World Resources Institute (WRI) who co-authored the study, and colleagues point out, forest conservation and restoration, especially in the tropics, are a major component of these cost-effective climate mitigation strategies.

It can be hard to visualize exactly how big of an impact a billions-of-tons-of-emissions reduction will actually make, but Minnemeyer and the other co-authors of a blog poston WRI’s website make it pretty easy. They note that halting deforestation, restoring forests that have already been logged or degraded, and improving forest management could cost-effectively remove seven billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere every year, which is equivalent to the annual emissions generated by 1.5 billion cars. That’s far more than the number of cars currently on the road around the world — according to the World Economic Forum, there won’t be 1.5 billion cars in the world until 2025.

Stopping deforestation alone could lead to about 40 percent of the total emissions reductions achievable through low-cost, natural mitigation strategies. “Protecting forests also offers the greatest potential to mitigate climate change based on land area. Brazil and Indonesia together contribute more than 50 percent of carbon emissions from tree cover loss across the tropics, and thus offer the greatest mitigation opportunity for avoided deforestation,” Minnemeyer and colleagues write.

Forest restoration could also offer huge climate mitigation benefits, they add, but these efforts would have to be carefully balanced with the growing demand for food: “According to the study, 42 percent of the total emissions reductions that could be achieved from reforestation depend on reducing pasture land, including by reforesting all grazing land in forested ecoregions. This scenario may be difficult to fully realize given the growing demand for food, including a projected 95 percent increase in beef demand between 2006 and 2050. Instead, we will need to find ways to increase productivity on pasture lands to concentrate food production on a smaller amount of land and free up land for restoration.”

This study joins a growing body of research that demonstrates just how crucial forests will be to our efforts to halt global warming. For instance, a suite of research released on the eve of the annual United Nations climate conference that kicked off in Bonn, Germany on November 6 showed just how important forests will be to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Included was a report by the Woods Hole Research Center that suggests that aggressive action to protect and rehabilitate tropical forests could buy us more time to decarbonize the global economy, a necessary transition if we’re to meet the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping global warming in this century “well below” two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages.

Deforestation is directly responsible for about 10 percent of global emissions, but of course that doesn’t tell the whole climate-and-forests story: the destruction of a forest also represents the removal of a valuable carbon sink. A study published in September found that deforestation and forest degradation and disturbance in the tropical forests of Africa, the Americas, and Asia have caused those forests to now emit more carbon into the atmosphere than they sequester on an annual basis.

Meanwhile, a study released back in March found that forests play a more critical role in cooling surface temperatures in almost all regions of Earth than was previously understood. Kaiguang Zhao, an assistant professor of environment modeling and spatial analysis at The Ohio State University and a co-author of that study, said that this finding “really affirms the value of forest conservation and protection policies in the fight against climate change.”

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