If all the cleared out forests are allowed to regrow, the young trees can help trap carbon from the atmosphere and mitigate climate change.
Global temperatures are climbing every year. Polar ice sheets are melting faster, causing sea levels to rise and resulting in extreme changes in weather patterns. But new research suggests that a simple method could be effective in trapping carbon from the atmosphere and mitigating climate change.
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If all the cleared out forests are left alone to regrow for 40 years, they could potentially capture greenhouse gas emissions generated by all of Latin America and the Caribbean in the past 20 years. Just protecting those secondary forests could be enough to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere without the need of tree planting and land abandonment. Deforestation should not happen in the first place but regeneration of forests is also important.
“The mantra has been, 'we need to protect old-growth forests'," said Saara DeWalt, co-author and professor of biological sciences at Clemson University. "Protection of old-growth forests, which store substantial amounts of carbon, is absolutely needed, but we need to look to secondary-forest protection as well.”
Usually authorities do not take good care of secondary forests once the land is cleared out. But these forests can actually prove beneficial in reducing carbon levels in the air. A forest takes 40 to 60 years to regrow and to activate their carbon storage function.
“Policies to mitigate climate change should include land abandonment and natural regeneration as part of an overall plan, with protection of old-growth forests and reduction in the use of fossil fuels,” said DeWalt. “If we also start to promote protection of second-growth forests, or promote land abandonment, we will get a big payoff.”
To find the benefits of second-growth trees, a team of researchers carried out an extensive study. They used a map to estimate the extent of secondary forests across Neotropics or the region of South America. Then, they projected how much carbon these forests would absorb between 2008 and 2048 based on their rate of recovery. Researchers found that if young trees are left alone between 2008 and 2013, they would absorb more carbon than was released in the air in Neotropics between 2010 and 2014.
Researchers believe that the young secondary and middle age secondary trees can be protected more effectively if local authorities and communities are being involved in the process. Carbon emissions are created when fossil fuels like coal, oil or natural gas are burned. Young trees could be one of effective yet less costly means to restrict carbon emissions in the air.
“We need to understand more details about benefits of secondary forests, and which conditions promote reliance of secondary forests,” said DeWalt.
“There’s not going to be one-answer solution to slowing climate change. It’s going to take a lot of different parts. If we can promote secondary forests and their protection, then we can go part of the way. Let’s add that to the tool box.”
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