Mapping carbon accumulation potential from global natural forest regrowth

Susan C. Cook-Patton*, Sara M. Leavitt, David Gibbs, Nancy L. Harris, Kristine Lister, Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira, Russell D. Briggs, Robin L. Chazdon, Thomas W. Crowther, Peter W. Ellis, Heather P. Griscom, Valentine Herrmann, Karen D. Holl, Richard A. Houghton, Cecilia Larrosa, Guy Lomax, Richard Lucas, Palle Madsen, Yadvinder Malhi, Alain PaquetteJohn D. Parker, Keryn Paul, Devin Routh, Stephen Roxburgh, Sassan Saatchi, Johan van den Hoogen, Wayne S. Walker, Charlotte E. Wheeler, Stephen A. Wood, Liang Xu, Bronson W. Griscom

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

236 Citations (SciVal)

Abstract

To constrain global warming, we must strongly curtail greenhouse gas emissions and capture excess atmospheric carbon dioxide1,2. Regrowing natural forests is a prominent strategy for capturing additional carbon3, but accurate assessments of its potential are limited by uncertainty and variability in carbon accumulation rates2,3. To assess why and where rates differ, here we compile 13,112 georeferenced measurements of carbon accumulation. Climatic factors explain variation in rates better than land-use history, so we combine the field measurements with 66 environmental covariate layers to create a global, one-kilometre-resolution map of potential aboveground carbon accumulation rates for the first 30 years of natural forest regrowth. This map shows over 100-fold variation in rates across the globe, and indicates that default rates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)4,5 may underestimate aboveground carbon accumulation rates by 32 per cent on average and do not capture eight-fold variation within ecozones. Conversely, we conclude that maximum climate mitigation potential from natural forest regrowth is 11 per cent lower than previously reported3 owing to the use of overly high rates for the location of potential new forest. Although our data compilation includes more studies and sites than previous efforts, our results depend on data availability, which is concentrated in ten countries, and data quality, which varies across studies. However, the plots cover most of the environmental conditions across the areas for which we predicted carbon accumulation rates (except for northern Africa and northeast Asia). We therefore provide a robust and globally consistent tool for assessing natural forest regrowth as a climate mitigation strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-550
Number of pages6
JournalNature
Volume585
Issue number7826
Early online date23 Sept 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sept 2020

Keywords

  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Carbon/metabolism
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Data Collection
  • Environmental Restoration and Remediation
  • Forestry/statistics & numerical data
  • Forests
  • Geographic Mapping
  • Global Warming/prevention & control
  • Internationality
  • Kinetics
  • Trees/growth & development

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