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Study Touts Carbon-Absorbing Power Of Forests

July 16, 2011

The world’s forests absorb one-third of the world’s greenhouse gases, and could soak up as much as half of annual global carbon emission if deforestation was halted, according to a new study published Friday in Science, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

In the study, co-author Dr. Pep Canadell, a scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia and the Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, and colleagues combined information from “forest inventories, models and satellites to construct a profile of forests as major regulators of atmospheric CO2,” according to a CSIRO press release.

They discovered that the world’s forests currently remove 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon each year from the Earth’s atmosphere, which they believe to be equivalent to one-third of the planet’s annual fossil fuel emissions. They also discovered that deforestation for development, to generate fuel, or for other reasons emits roughly 2.9 billion metric tons of the greenhouse gas, or “more than a quarter of all emissions stemming from human activity” each year, according to AFP writer Marlowe Hood.

Previously, there was not enough data available to determine deforestation’s contribution to carbon emissions, but according to CSIRO, Dr. Canadell and his associates reported that the percentage of those gases released into the atmosphere as a result of logging and related activities was “much larger” than they had previously thought.

They believe that their discoveries suggest that “the potential benefits of avoiding deforestation through the United Nations-backed Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme, are much larger than previously appreciated.”

“This is really a timely breakthrough with which we can now clearly demonstrate how forests and changes in landscape such as wildfire or forest regrowth impact the removal or release of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)”¦ What this research tells us is that forests play a much larger role as carbon sinks as a result of tree growth and forest expansion” Canadell said in the paper, entitled “A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests.”

“If you were to stop deforestation tomorrow, the world’s established and regrowing forests would remove half of fossil fuel emissions,” he added in an interview with Hood, adding that the carbon absorption ability of carbon–which Hood notes could soak up roughly 13-percent of the coal, oil, and natural gas used globally each year–could provide “‘savings’ worth billions of euros a year if that quantity had to be paid out by current mitigation (CO2 reduction) strategies.”

Image 2: Using sophisticated monitoring equipment, scientists have constructed a profile of forests as regulators of atmospheric CO2. Credit: CSIRO

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Study Touts Carbon-Absorbing Power Of Forests