A further increase in average annual temperatures and the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere can be dramatically slowed down or even stopped by restoring most of the logged forests. They will absorb up to a third of the greenhouse gases produced by mankind, scientists write in the journal Science.
“Everyone knows that reforestation will help us fight global warming, but no one has ever tried to accurately assess the strength of their actions. Our calculations show that for now this is the best method to fight climate change. If we act now, we can reduce the CO2 share in the atmosphere is a quarter, “said Tom Crowther of the Swiss Polytechnic High School in Zurich.
Sanctioned and illegal deforestation today is still one of the main problems for the ecology and climate of the Earth. According to NASA estimates, deforestation rates have increased by 62% over the past ten years, reaching record levels.
Each year, in accordance with the measurements of satellites, the Earth loses vast forests, equivalent in area to the island of Ceylon. Most of these cuttings occur in the tropics, but they do not bypass Russia and other northern countries.
Deforestation, as shown by observations by climatologists, leads not only to the disappearance of a large number of CO2 sinks, but also to many other rearrangements in the work of ecosystems and climate. Trees cool the surface of the soil, “conduct” the movement of the winds, prevent excessive evaporation of water and serve as a source of aerosols that cool the atmosphere and reflect the heat and light of the Sun back into space.
Krauter and his colleagues thought about how much forests affect the carbon cycle in nature and how the restoration of their former area will affect the climate and greenhouse gas emissions.
In the past, as scientists note, climatologists have used rather sketchy and rough models for such estimates. Swiss researchers have significantly increased the accuracy of these calculations, analyzing almost 80 thousand photographs of various forests on all continents of the Earth, obtained by ESA satellites.
These images helped them calculate how many trees may be present in different parts of the world and create a kind of “population density map” for the flora. Such data, in turn, allowed scientists to obtain accurate estimates of how many trees humanity has managed to destroy and where forest cover can still be restored.
According to current UN estimates, the total area of the Earth’s forests is now about 5.5 billion hectares, and only half of this falls on the treetops. According to Krauter and his colleagues, both of these indicators can be easily increased by about a third without much damage to human life and the economy of the Earth, by restoring some of the deforested forests.
The explosive growth in the popularity of palm oil and the expansion of oil palm plantations can lead to the destruction or sharp decline in the biodiversity of flora and fauna on four continents at once.
The lion’s share of these territories accounts for only six countries – Russia, the USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China. All these states can restore several tens of millions of hectares of forest without any constraints or problems for their residents and industrial enterprises.
If this forest cover is restored in the coming years, then by the end of the century, the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere, as scientists believe, will decrease by about a quarter. This will return the Earth’s climate to the situation in which it was at the beginning of the last century.
“We need to understand that forests are being restored for decades – it will take a long time before trees grow and reach their maximum potential. Therefore, it is extremely important to protect existing forests and fight global warming and other methods, including reducing the use of fossil hydrocarbons,” concludes Krauter.