New Research Shows Forests Are Even Better for the Climate Than We Thought
It’s no secret that forests are crucial carbon stores, but new research suggests that forests also help mitigate climate change by regulating global and local temperatures. This study, as the Guardian reports, is the first to reach beyond the carbon storage benefits of the world’s forests, explaining that forests keep the world at least half a degree Celsius cooler due to biophysical effects -- from chemical compounds to turbulence and the reflection of light -- are combined with carbon dioxide.” In certain places, temperature regulation can be even higher, such as in the tropics, where trees can cool areas by more than a degree.
Conservation International: What on Earth is Irrecoverable Carbon?, March 31, 2021.
Why This Matters
Forests worldwide hold about a century's worth of carbon emissions, and deforestation is the second-largest cause of emissions after the burning of fossil fuels. Some of the world’s most important forests are in danger of being destroyed. In this century, the world has lost about 10% of its tree cover. In the last two decades, 75% of the Amazon rainforest lost its stability and resilience, causing it to release more carbon than it is absorbing. This study suggests that losing forests will contribute to global warming in multiple ways, increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and preventing forests from keeping the world cool.
Now This: Carbon Emissions From Deforestation Doubled in 20 Years, March 3, 2022.
Google Earth: Our Forests | Timelapse in Google Earth, April 15, 2021.
More Than "Sticks of Carbon"
Deforestation affects more than just carbon levels. It also impacts biodiversity, food security, and extreme weather. This study, published in Frontiers in Forests and Global Climate Change, shows how forests cool the air and protect areas from droughts, extreme heat, and floods, which are becoming increasingly frequent and intense.
Trees can move heat and moisture away from the surface of the earth, making it feel cooler through their expansive networks of roots, effective water use, and complex leaf patterns. Moreover, forests emit "biogenic volatile organic compounds,” chemicals that form clouds that can lower local temperatures.
The researchers emphasize that climate policy should reflect the complex benefits that forests provide. "Despite the mounting evidence that forests deliver myriad climate benefits, trees are still viewed just as sticks of carbon by many policymakers in the climate change arena,” Louis Verchot, co-author of the study, told the Guardian. Forests are key to mitigation, but also adaptation.”
BBC: The Tragedy Of Deforestation | Climate Change: The Facts, November 11, 2021.
Bloomberg: The Brazilian Amazon's Tipping Point May Have Passed the Point of No Return, September 24, 2021.
Forest 500: A climate wake-up | But business failing to hear the alarm on deforestation, January 12, 2022.