Forests larger than France have regrown in the last 20 years, new research shows

Nearly 59 million hectares of forests – an area larger than mainland France – have regrown since 2000, according to new research published by Trillion Trees.

This area of forest has the potential to store the equivalent of 5.9 gigatons of CO2 – more than the annual emissions of the United States, according to Trillion Trees.

Trillion Trees – which is a joint venture between World Wildlife Fund (WWF), BirdLife International and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – came together to urgently speed up and scale up the positive power of forests, helping protect and restore forests to achieve one trillion trees by 2050, for the benefit of people, nature and a stable climate.

The new report, published by Trillion Trees, points to the Atlantic Forest in Brazil as one of the success stories for regeneration. An estimated 4.2 million hectares – an area roughly the size of the Netherlands – have regrown there since 2000 through a combination of planned projects to restore the forest, more responsible industry practices and other factors, including migration trends toward cities. Yet, there is much more to be done to protect and recover this important biome.

Josefina Braña Varela, vice president and deputy lead for forests at WWF, said: “Deforestation is at the centre of our climate crisis, and we must do everything we can to halt it. In addition, the restoration of our natural forests will play an essential role in preserving these critical ecosystems. The analysis provides a positive outlook for natural regeneration—but this growth doesn’t happen without careful planning, increased investment and strong policies in place that lead to an increase in forest cover.”

In the boreal forests of Mongolia’s northern wilderness, the study suggests that 1.2 million hectares of forest have regenerated in the last 20 years, in part thanks to the work of WWF and increased emphasis on protected areas by the Mongolian government. Other regeneration hot spots include Central Africa and the boreal forests of Canada.

The study is designed to help inform forest restoration plans worldwide, giving a picture of the areas where focusing restoration efforts could be most beneficial.

It is part of a two-year research project that involved examining more than 30 years’ worth of satellite imaging data and surveying experts with on-the-ground knowledge of more than 100 sites in 29 different countries. The study follows WWF’s map of deforestation fronts, published earlier this year, that showed the extent to which the world is losing forests.

There is more momentum than ever behind forest restoration, including a wave of government pledges. But close examination of these pledges shows that the delivery plans involve very limited expansion of natural forests despite the strong climate and biodiversity benefits they offer, according to the Trillion Trees report. With this new understanding of the potential for natural regeneration at scale, there is cause for rebalancing delivery plans to include more natural forests.

The authors of the study warn that encouraging signs of regeneration cannot be taken for granted. Forests across Brazil face significant threats today, even the Atlantic Forest—a recognised success story in restoration. Such is the extent of historic deforestation that the area of this unique forest still needs to more than double from currently 12% of its original extent to 30% in order to reach what scientists believe is a minimal threshold for its lasting conservation.

William Baldwin-Cantello, Director of Nature-based Solutions at WWF said: “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. 

“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. 
“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, which in the UK means strong domestic laws to prevent our food causing deforestation overseas.”

Trillion Trees plans to invite local partners and green funders to help facilitate new landscape restoration ventures, focusing on areas offering the maximum benefit for vulnerable ecosystems and local communities.

Trillion Trees

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. 

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