Anywhere between 53 and 58 percent of the difference between today’s biomass stocks and their potential stocks can be blamed on deforestation and other plant removal factors, like urbanization. However, land management changes, like the spread of farming and grazing cattle, are responsible for the rest of the reduction.
Elb explained that the way the land is used was thought to have a small impact in this sense, but “here we show it is massive, similar in magnitude to the deforestation signal.”
Other research has shown that we're not only neutering this all-important carbon sink; we're perverting it. Another study recently revealed that our misuse of tropical forests has even turned them from a carbon sink into net producers of carbon. This is a huge shame, considering that tropical forests represent the greatest potential when it comes to the unenviable task of regenerating the planet's biomass stocks.
A recent, separate analysis looking into effective ways to solve climate change also highlights how important this carbon sink actually is. In its top 20 – ranked by how much atmospheric carbon is drawn down – forest preservation and eco-friendly land use schemes appear more than any other type of solution except for food-based options.
“In the short term, carbon sinks in vegetation are very effective, because ecosystems usually regrow naturally, without a lot of management or care,” Erb added.
Although it can hypothetically be saturated at a point, “conservation and reforestation are very strong mitigation options” for climate change in the near future.
So even though the paper explains that avoiding deforestation is “necessary”, it’s nowhere near enough to prevent dangerous climate change. The way we use our land needs to change as well.