Forest Regrowth Showcased as Key Climate Change Tool in New Study

September 23, 2020

Findings provide practical guidelines for prioritization of forest reconstruction efforts

Arlington, Va. (Sept. 23, 2020) – A new study published in the journal Nature reveals that if forests are allowed to regenerate naturally, they can capture more carbon than previously thought, depending on factors like climate, soil and land slope. The findings advance the case for using natural climate solutions, in particular the restoration of forest cover, to slow global warming when applied in locations best equipped to support natural forest growth.

The Nature study was co-authored by Conservation International’s Senior Natural Climate Solutions Director Bronson Griscom, who led a landmark 2017 study while at The Nature Conservancy that identified natural climate solutions as a necessary and cost-effective method to stabilize rising global temperatures.

“This study gives us a much better understanding of forest growth rates and their spatial variability. It allows stakeholders around the world to identify the locations where natural regeneration can provide the highest returns on investment ensuring long-term carbon capture,” said Griscom. “There’s been lots of excitement about natural climate solutions in the past few years, and the challenge now is harnessing that excitement into action. This new dataset is a pivotal tool for determining where we can re-green the planet. It’s like we just walked out of our optometrist office with improved eyesight — we now have a much clearer map of how fast forests can soak up carbon.”

The study refines global forest regrowth rates, which the authors find have been underestimated in key regions by up to 32%. The findings indicate that efforts to restore forest cover in large parts of the tropics are particularly important for meeting Paris Climate Agreement goals.

Published in collaboration with 18 fellow research organizations, led by The Nature Conservancy, the paper synthesizes results from 256 previous studies (selected from a review of over 11,000 studies) and contains more than 13,000 carbon capture measurements from locations worldwide. The analysis resulted in the creation of a ‘wall-to-wall’ global, 1km resolution map highlighting areas with the greatest carbon returns from the first 30 years of allowing lands to reforest naturally.

“We already know the many benefits of restoring global forest cover — from capturing carbon and cleaning our air and water to providing habitats for wildlife and providing sustainable development opportunities for local communities. What's been missing to date is robust, actionable data that helps environmental decision-makers understand where natural regrowth makes the most sense as a tool to tackle climate change. Our study will help change that,” comments lead author Dr. Susan Cook-Patton from The Nature Conservancy.

Natural forest regeneration is the process of allowing degraded or deforested land to regrow naturally, or simply giving forests the protection, space and time to do what they do best — thrive without human impacts.

“Forest restoration is about more than planting trees. It’s about providing just the right amount of support and then stepping out of the way to allow damaged lands to do what they do best — thrive without repeated human impacts,” said Nikola Alexandre, Restoration Lead at Conservation International. “The rewilding of Earth’s interconnected systems can be complex, but this study will help us allocate time, resources and protections to the right geographies in support of restoration efforts that encourage growth that benefits biodiversity, climate and the Indigenous peoples who rely on these forests.”

In the Amazon Basin for example, a forest restoration effort that uses the Muvuca seeding method which entails the spreading of a variety of seeds to generate plants native to the area. The traditional knowledge behind the practice ensures the trees and plants produce high yields, restore the soil and continue to naturally regenerate, which spreads cover and supports the development of a diverse ecosystem.  

“By encouraging traditional regrowth efforts like the Muvuca technique alongside the guidance provided in this new study, we are able to plan for future projects that will be cost-efficient and provide maximum impacts. When COVID-19 wanes and it is safe to go back into the field we have a new guide at our fingertips that will positively impact nature’s future,” said Alexandre.

To learn more about restoration and natural forest regeneration click here.

About Conservation International

Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature. Conservation International works in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International’s work on Conservation News, Facebook, Twitter