Tropical Forest Restoration
Reduced / Sequestered
In recent decades, tropical forests have suffered extensive clearing, fragmentation, degradation, and depletion of biodiversity. Once blanketing 12 percent of the world’s land mass, they now cover just 5 percent. While destruction continues in many places, tropical forest restoration is growing and may sequester as much as 6 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year.
As a forest ecosystem recovers, trees, soil, leaf litter, and other vegetation absorb and hold carbon. As flora and fauna return and interactions between organisms and species revive, the forest regains its multidimensional roles: supporting the water cycle, conserving soil, protecting habitat and pollinators, providing food, medicine, and fiber, and giving people places to live, adventure, and worship.
The specific mechanics of restoration vary. The simplest scenario is to release land from nonforest use, such as growing crops or damming a valley, and let a young forest rise up on its own. Protective measures can keep pressures such as fire, erosion, or grazing at bay.
Other techniques are more intensive, such as cultivating and planting native seedlings and removing invasives to accelerate natural ecological processes. Because forests and people rarely exist in isolation in today’s heavily populated world, local communities need to have a stake in what is growing, if restoration is to sustain.
It is estimated that 287 million hectares of degraded land in the tropics could be restored to continuous, intact forest. Using current and estimated commitments from the Bonn Challenge and New York Declaration on Forests, our model assumes that restoration could occur on 161–231 million hectares. By protecting currently degraded land and allowing natural regrowth occur, committed land could sequester 1.4 tons of carbon dioxide per acre annually, for a total of 54.5–85.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.