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Economic and social constraints on reforestation for climate mitigation in Southeast Asia


As climate change continues to threaten human and natural systems, the search for cost-effective and practical mitigation solutions is gaining momentum. Reforestation has recently been identified as a promising nature-based climate solution. Yet there are context-dependent biophysical, financial, land-use and operational constraints to reforestation that demand careful consideration. Here, we show that 121 million ha of presently degraded land in Southeast Asia, a region noted for its significant reforestation potential, are biophysically suitable for reforestation. Reforestation of this land would contribute 3.43 ± 1.29 PgCO2e yr−1 to climate mitigation through 2030. However, by taking a combination of on-the-ground financial, land use and operational constraints into account, we find that only a fraction of that mitigation potential may be achievable (0.3–18%). Such constraints are not insurmountable, but they show that careful planning and consideration are needed for effective landscape-scale reforestation.

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Fig. 1: Climate mitigation potential of reforestation in Southeast Asia under biophysical, financial, land-use and operational constraints.

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Z.Y. and L.R.C. acknowledge support from the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore under its Commonwealth Research Fellowship grant (NRF-CSC-ICFC2017–05). L.P.K. is supported by the NRF Singapore under its NRF Returning Singaporean Scientists Scheme (NRF-RSS2019-007). T.W. was supported by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) funded by The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag and an anonymous gift to The Nature Conservancy.

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the manuscript writing. L.P.K. conceived the study. Z.Y. and T.V.S. conducted the analyses and initial evaluation of results. All authors contributed discussions and modelling insights. T.W., P.T. and D.A.F. contributed key mangrove datasets, and Z.Y. and L.R.C. contributed key terrestrial and peat-swamp datasets.

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Correspondence to Yiwen Zeng, Tasya Vadya Sarira or Lian Pin Koh.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Reviewer recognition Nature Climate Change thanks Robin Chazdon and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Zeng, Y., Sarira, T.V., Carrasco, L.R. et al. Economic and social constraints on reforestation for climate mitigation in Southeast Asia. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 842–844 (2020).

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