Blog Editorial

New research proves forests are a critical climate solution that must be protected

New research published in the journal Nature validates forests as an absolutely critical climate solution, which must be protected and restored if there is to be any chance of reaching global climate mitigation ambitions, and staying within 1.5 degrees of global warming.

The study, based on research from over 200 scientists, sheds light on the largely untapped carbon drawdown potential of conserving and restoring natural forests. It demonstrates that beyond being powerful carbon sinks, forest ecosystems offer a raft of benefits for local communities, indigenous people, and biodiversity.

Significant carbon drawdown potential of forests

Understanding the immense potential of global forests to capture and sequester carbon is vital.

The combined modelling approach for the Nature journal study included extensive estimates from this study and previous research, to enable an accurate forecast of the scale of the forest carbon potential across the globe.

The groundbreaking findings in this latest study estimate that natural forests have the capacity to capture up to 30% of the world’s carbon drawdown targets. This is equal to a staggering 226 gigatons (Gt) of carbon.

Under the guidance of the Voluntary Carbon Markets Initiative (VCMI) and other integrity frameworks, it is possible to use the latest research on the carbon drawdown potential of forests, to accurately support emissions cutting strategies with carbon credits.

In fact, the study found that protecting existing forests, especially through effective, robust, and high-quality initiatives like REDD+ carbon projects, could deliver over 60% of the necessary carbon savings to achieve carbon neutrality goals.

However, the world is at risk of losing these critical ecosystems. The study also warned that fragmented, degraded forest landscapes must be reconnected to ensure optimal carbon drawdown. A sobering highlight of the report highlighted the alarming fact that if business-as-usual emissions continue, forests may lose 25% of their ability to absorb carbon by 2050.

The current state of global forest carbon storage

Another concerning revelation from the study indicates that current forest carbon storage is 328 Gt lower than its full natural potential. Within this carbon storage shortfall, 226 Gt of emissions exist outside urban and agricultural areas.

This emphasises the potential for carbon capture through the sustainable management and conservation of forested areas. The study further stressed that forest conservation, restoration, and sustainable management are integral to achieve climate targets by mitigating emissions and enhancing carbon sequestration.

Aside from the carbon capture benefits, the study also underscored the positive impacts of biodiversity on overall  forest ecosystem productivity.  This is because the carbon drawdown estimates within the study were only possible in ecosystems that support a natural diversity of species.

In fact, nearly half of global forest production can be attributed directly or indirectly to biodiversity. In light of this, the Nature journal study advocates for ecologically responsible forest restoration, which does not include conversion of other essential ecosystems like grasslands, peatlands, and wetlands.

Investing in REDD+ initiatives to protect forest ecosystems

These latest findings follow recent analysis that discovered that REDD+ projects are effectively slowing the rate of deforestation by, in some countries, more than ten times the baseline project figures. Taken together, they offer a comprehensive overview of the vital role forests play in ensuring climate security.

If one thing is clear, it’s that these new findings present a call to action to take bold steps to protect and restore existing forests, and prevent further forest loss and degradation.

Yet preserving and restoring forest ecosystems has inherent complex challenges that extend beyond scientific findings. It is vital that land-management policies prioritize the rights and well-being of local communities and indigenous people. As highlighted in the study, sustainable ecosystem-restoration initiatives can only be achieved when healthy biodiversity becomes the preferred choice for local communities, as the custodians of the land whose lives are intertwined with the forests for resources and often their livelihoods.

It is the myriad benefits for biodiversity and local communities, coupled with their carbon drawdown potential, which makes forest conservation and restoration a cornerstone of global climate action.

It is imperative to not only champion the protection of forests, but to also uphold and further boost frameworks like REDD+ which do so in a socially and ecologically responsible way.

The untapped potential of natural forests can only be fully realised if the voluntary carbon market is fully functional, as it is currently the only implemented mechanism that brings real reductions at low cost. The failure of global leaders to agree on the Article 6.4 is disappointing generally speaking, but represents a real opportunity for the voluntary carbon market to pull the weights for the coming years, and for the private sector to step up until policy makers gets their act together with Article 6. For context: From the start of COP21 to the end of COP28 2,934 days elapsed. In that time, the VCM has delivered more than 1.4 billion tonnes of verified emission reductions and removals, whilst over the same 2934 days, the UN has failed to agree even the rules for making the rules of Article 6.4, and will not do so for at least another year.

Time for corporates and private sector to step up climate action. The clock is ticking.

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