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Protecting irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems

Allie Goldstein, Will R. Turner, Seth A. Spawn, Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira, Susan Cook-Patton, Joseph Fargione, Holly K. Gibbs, Bronson Griscom, Jennifer H. Hewson, Jennifer F. Howard, Juan Carlos Ledezma, Susan Page, Lian Pin Koh, Johan Rockström, Jonathan Sanderman, David G. Hole

Nature Climate Change, 10, 287-295

March 31, 2020

Avoiding catastrophic climate change requires rapid decarbonization and improved ecosystem stewardship. To achieve the latter, ecosystems should be prioritized by responsiveness to direct, localized action and the magnitude and recoverability of their carbon stores. Here, we show that a range of ecosystems contain ‘irrecoverable carbon’ that is vulnerable to release upon land use conversion and, once lost, is not recoverable on timescales relevant to avoiding dangerous climate impacts. Globally, ecosystems highly affected by human land-use decisions contain at least 260 Gt of irrecoverable carbon, with particularly high densities in peatlands, mangroves, old-growth forests and marshes. To achieve climate goals, we must safeguard these irrecoverable carbon pools through an expanded set of policy and finance strategies.

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Goldstein, A., Turner, W. R., Spawn, S. A., Anderson-Teixeira, K. J., Cook-Patton, S., Fargione, J., … Hole, D. G. (2020). Protecting irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems. Nature Climate Change, 10(4), 287–295. doi:10.1038/s41558-020-0738-8