Restoring forests may be one of our most powerful weapons in fighting climate change

Allowing the earth’s forests to recover could cancel out a significant amount of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research.

The worldwide assessment of current and potential forestation estimates that letting saplings regrow on land where forests have been cleared would increase global forested area by one-third and remove 205 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere. That’s two-thirds of the roughly 300 billion metric tons of carbon humans have put up there since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

“The point is that [reforestation is] so much more vastly powerful than anyone ever expected,” said Thomas Crowther, a professor of environmental systems science at ETH Zurich and a co-author of the paper. “By far, it’s the top climate change solution in terms of carbon storage potential.”

Supporting natural systems should be a major component of any climate change mitigation strategy — in addition to deploying clean energy, switching to electric vehicles, and curbing consumption overall.

The challenges of such a massive reforestation effort are immense, however: Deforestation is still rampant and is accelerating in some parts of the world. Rather than building up forests as a resource to offset greenhouse gas emissions, we’re currently losing them, and emitting more carbon in the process.

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