An area of forest the size of France has grown back around the world over the past 20 years, showing that regeneration in some places is paying off, according to a new analysis.
Nearly 59 million hectares of forest have regrown since 2000, research shows, offering the potential to absorb and store 5.9 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide – more than the annual emissions of the entire United States.
The two-year study, conducted via satellite imagery data and field surveys in dozens of countries, identified areas of regrowth in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, where an area the size of the Netherlands has rebounded since 2000 due to conservation efforts and industry practices.
Another area of regrowth is in the boreal forests of Mongolia, where 1.2 million hectares of forest have regenerated in two decades thanks to the work of conservationists and the Mongolian government. Forests have also made a comeback in parts of Central Africa and Canada.
However, the world is still experiencing an overall loss of forests “at a terrifying rate,” the researchers warned, with deforestation occurring much faster than restoration programs.
Over a similar period described in the regrowth study, conducted by WWF as part of the Trillion Trees project, 386 million hectares of tree cover have been lost globally – roughly seven times the area of regenerated forest.
Previous studies have estimated that an area of forest as large as the UK is lost each year, largely to timber or to make way for agriculture, with such deforestation posing enormous threats to wildlife and efforts to contain the climate crisis.
Deforestation increased sharply over the past year, with losses concentrated in vital rainforests in tropical areas.
Trees are being felled and burned at a rapid rate in the Amazon, with more than 430,000 acres already lost in 2021. Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, is under increasing international pressure due to this deforestation.
“The science is clear – if we are to prevent dangerous climate change and address the loss of nature, we must both stop deforestation and restore natural forests,” said William Baldwin-Cantello, director of ground-based solutions. nature at WWF.
“We have long known that natural regeneration of forests is often cheaper, higher in carbon and better for biodiversity than actively planted forests, and this research tells us where and why regeneration occurs, and how we can recreate these. conditions elsewhere.
“But we cannot take this regeneration for granted – deforestation still claims millions of hectares each year, far more than what is regenerated.”