When was the last time you heard good news about the planet’s forests? While many of the planet's vital forests are still neck-deep in a whole load of trouble, a new study has demonstrated how some forested areas possess a remarkable ability to spring back and regrow if given the chance.
Since 2000, an area of forest the size of France has regrown naturally across the world, according to a new analysis. That’s enough forest to store the equivalent of 5.9 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, more than the annual emissions of the US.
“The data show the enormous potential of natural habitats to recover when given the chance to do so. But it isn’t an excuse for any of us to wait around for it to happen," John Lotspeich, Executive Director of Trillion Trees, said in a statement.
The report was published this week by Trillion Trees, a collaboration between the WWF, BirdLife International, and WCS. Over 30 years’ worth of satellite imaging data from 29 countries in 13 ecoregions were used to inform the findings.
Hot spots of deforestation could be found across the globe. For instance, a resurgence of forested areas has recently reemerged north-east of Beijing in northern China following government efforts to severe dust storms, which has greatly helped the replenishing of local flora. Another good example can be found in northwestern Brazil, where the abandonment of agriculture has also seen a resurgence of forested areas.
As these examples suggest, forest restoration has been driven by a number of factors. Some factors are unclear and some have been the result of better forest management while others have been natural, such as regeneration after forest fires. As we see in large portions of China, nationwide government policies have also helped significantly boost forest cover in a matter of years. Similar pledges and policies have recently been enacted around the world.
Although the report highlights many successes, it does not downplay the scale of the problem. Many areas, such as the Atlantic Forests along the eastern coast of Brazil, have seen a considerable recovery in the past two couples but still remain far less than their historical extent. Meanwhile, outside these areas of recovery, deforestation continues to rage through many of the world’s most vital forests. Recovering pockets of forests are not going to instantly fix the wider issue of climate change or deforestation alone, but this report shows that restoring forests could have a meaningful impact on the state of the planet’s natural environments.
“The science is clear: if we are to avoid dangerous climate change and turn around the loss of nature, we must both halt deforestation and restore natural forests,” explained William Baldwin-Cantello, Director of Nature-based Solutions at WWF-UK.
“We’ve known for a long time that natural forest regeneration is often cheaper, richer in carbon and better for biodiversity than actively planted forests, and this research tells us where and why regeneration is happening, and how we can recreate those conditions elsewhere,” adds Baldwin-Cantell.
“But we can’t take this regeneration for granted – deforestation still claims millions of hectares every year, vastly more than is regenerated. To realise the potential of forests as a climate solution, we need support for regeneration in climate delivery plans and must tackle the drivers of deforestation.”