Focus |

Forest Carbon

Forests can take up and store large amounts of carbon, which has made them a popular potential solution to help slow climate change. However, the carbon dynamics of forests, as well as their social aspects, are complicated, posing challenges for their use as a mitigation strategy. In light of the growing importance of forests in the context of climate change, we present in this Focus issue a collection of research, reviews and opinion pieces on the theme of forest carbon dynamics and their use in climate mitigation.

News and Comment

In light of the urgent need to mitigate climate change, many governments and companies are looking to the natural world for help, most notably through plans to plant forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere. However, the carbon — and social — dynamics of forests are complex.

Editorial | | Nature Climate Change

Forests play a key role in plans to mitigate climate change and reach carbon neutrality by sequestering and offsetting anthropogenic emissions. Nature Climate Change spoke to representatives from Tribal Carbon and If Not Us Then Who about the role that Indigenous peoples living in forest communities play in climate mitigation.

Q&A | | Nature Climate Change

The Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement measures progress towards a net-zero emissions goal. Now, research provides a way to improve representation of land-based contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and removals to properly assess collective progress.

News & Views | | Nature Climate Change

The current narrow focus on afforestation in climate policy runs the risk of compromising long-term carbon storage, human adaptation and efforts to preserve biodiversity. An emphasis on diverse, intact natural ecosystems — as opposed to fast-growing tree plantations — will help nations to deliver Paris Agreement goals and much more.

Comment | | Nature Climate Change

Reviews

Changes in forest disturbance are likely to be greatest in coniferous forests and the boreal biome, according to a review of global climate change effects on biotic and abiotic forest disturbance agents and their interactions.

Review Article | | Nature Climate Change

Nature-based climate solutions can help meet climate mitigation goals, but estimates of their carbon storage potential vary. This Review discusses the constraints and potential contributions of increasing carbon storage in the terrestrial biosphere, suggesting a conservative estimate of 100–200 GtCO2 in negative emissions to 2100.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Earth & Environment

Research

Forest management for climate mitigation plans requires accurate data on carbon fluxes to monitor policy impacts. Between 2001 and 2019, forests were a net sink of carbon globally, although emissions from disturbances highlight the need to reduce deforestation in tropical countries.

Article | | Nature Climate Change

Avoided deforestation is an important part of many climate mitigation strategies, yet monitoring is needed for enforcement. Subscriptions to deforestation alerts lowered the probability of deforestation in Africa by 18%, generating a value of US$149–696 million based on the social cost of carbon.

Analysis | | Nature Climate Change

Predicting mortality in forests is challenging because its underlying causes are spatially varied and not well known. Reduced resilience detected from remotely sensed time series of vegetation dynamics can serve as an effective early warning signal to indicate the potential for forest mortality.

Article | | Nature Climate Change

European forest disturbance—due to wind, bark beetles and wildfires—has increased in association with climate changes, but future disturbance-response remains highly uncertain. Now, research based on an ensemble of climate change scenarios indicates that an increase in forest disturbance is probable in the coming decades, with implications for forest carbon storage.

Letter | | Nature Climate Change

Indonesia accounts for a large proportion of the oil palm plantation expansion occurring globally. However, Indonesia’s mixed forests (and associated carbon stocks) complicate estimation of the contribution of oil palm agriculture to global carbon budgets. Remotely sensed land-cover classification combined with carbon flux estimates are now used to develop high-resolution estimates of carbon flux from Kalimantan plantations for the period 1990–2010.

Letter | | Nature Climate Change

Investing in forest protection is a way to generate tradable carbon credits to support biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. Here the authors assess and map the global supply of tropical forest carbon credits with the goal of informing climate policy and investments.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Forest management may play an important role in climate change mitigation. Here, Tong et al. combine remote sensing and machine learning modelling to map forest cover dynamics in southern China during 2002–2017, showing effects on carbon sequestration that are extensive but of uncertain longevity and possible negative impact on soil water.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The universality of the trade-off between early growth and lifespan in trees and its implications are disputed. Analysing a global tree ring dataset and performing data-driven simulations, the authors demonstrate the pervasiveness of the trade-off and challenge current earth system models that predict a continuation of the carbon sink into mature forests under warming and increasing CO2.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Forests are critical for stabilizing our climate, but costs of mitigation remain uncertain. Here the authors show the global forest sector could reduce emissions by 6.0 GtCOyr−1 in 2055, or roughly 10% of the mitigation needed to limit warming to 1.5 °C by mid-century, at a cost of 393 billion USD yr−1, or $281/tCO2.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Simulations of commonly proposed forest-management portfolios for Europe show that no single portfolio would meet all the requirements of the Paris Agreement, and climate benefits from forest management would be modest and local.

Letter | | Nature