New growth forests could ‘save the climate’

Nearly a billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation in a bid to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, a new report from Swiss university ETH Zurich has found.

An intensive push to reforest significant areas of the globe could ‘ultimately capture two thirds of human made carbon emissions’, with the study showing examining where in the world new trees could grow and how much carbon they would store.

Study lead author and postdoc at the Crowther Lab Jean-François Bastin explains: “One aspect was of particular importance to us as we did the calculations: we excluded cities or agricultural areas from the total restoration potential as these areas are needed for human life.”

The research concluded that the Earth could support 4.4 billion hectares of continuous tree cover, 1.6 billion more than the currently existing 2.8 billion hectares. Of these 1.6 billion hectares, 0.9 billion hectares fulfill the criterion of not being used by humans.

“Once mature, these new forests could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon: about two thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution,” the report concluded.

The study also shows which parts of the world are most suited to forest restoration. The greatest potential can be found in just six countries: Russia (151 million hectares); the US (103 million hectares); Canada (78.4 million hectares); Australia (58 million hectares); Brazil (49.7 million hectares); and China (40.2 million hectares).

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