July 19, 2024

Global stocktake reveals the untapped potential of healthy forests to store carbon

Forests have emerged as key players in the fight against climate change, as they act as significant carbon sinks, absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The exact extent of their carbon storage capabilities and the potential for even greater carbon absorption through improved forest management has been the subject of much debate. However, a recent study published in the scientific journal Nature, involving over 200 researchers worldwide, sheds new light on this issue. The study, coordinated by ETH Zurich, with important contributions from GFZ, presents estimates on the storage potential of forests.

According to the findings, forests have the ideal capacity to absorb a staggering 328 billion tons (gigatons, Gt for short) of carbon. However, due to the conversion of forested areas into agricultural and settlement lands, this potential is reduced to 226 Gt. Of this reduced potential, 139 Gt (61%) could be achieved solely by protecting existing forests, while the remaining 87 Gt (39%) could be realized through the reconnection of fragmented forest landscapes and sustainable forest management.

These findings are consistent with previous studies, which also concluded that forests have the potential to store vast amounts of carbon. However, despite the well-documented benefits of preserving and managing forests, deforestation continues to occur worldwide. Additionally, the ongoing emission of greenhouse gases intensifies global warming and further threatens the survival of forests.

To arrive at their estimates, the researchers combined satellite data with ground-based surveys of forest condition and biomass. They also integrated data on carbon storage in forest soils, dead wood, and litter. The inclusion of these various sources of data provides a more accurate quantification of the carbon storage potential than previous studies. Martin Herold, co-author of the study and head of the GFZ Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics Section, emphasizes the importance of systematically combining satellite and ground-based carbon measurements, as it opens up new avenues for understanding global carbon stocks and potentials.

The analysis of biomass data from satellites was predominantly conducted by GFZ, which also contributed soil data as part of a global network. This collaborative effort enabled a comprehensive assessment of the carbon storage potential of forests. Herold acknowledges the GFZ’s commitment to investing in integrated surveys and affirms their dedication to continue such efforts in the future. The organization’s robust monitoring infrastructures position them as a valuable partner for global analyses on crucial issues, including the evaluation and management of carbon stocks in relation to climate change and sustainability.

Behind this research lies the strategic motivation of the GFZ to explore ways of monitoring and quantifying changes on our dynamic planet and enhancing our understanding of georesources. The aim is to harness this knowledge to ensure the sustainable utilization of resources while combating climate change effectively. With the continued collaboration and efforts of researchers worldwide, it is hoped that the potential of forests as carbon sinks will be fully recognized and the urgent need for their protection and sustainable management will be prioritized on a global scale.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it