More forest cover does not mean a cooler climate, say researchers

Forest management and expansion in Europe over the last 250 years have not cooled the climate, according to new research published in the journal Science.

Image: Saravanan
Image: Saravanan

The French, German and Dutch researchers claim that since 1750, "in spite of considerable afforestation, wood extraction has led to Europe's forests accumulating a carbon debt of 3.1 petagrams [billion tonnes] of carbon".

They attribute this to the release of carbon otherwise stored in litter, dead wood, and soil carbon pools in managed forests, while the change from broadleaved forests to commercial coniferous forests has altered their albedo and evapotranspiration, leading to warming, the reseachers say.

They warn: "The political imperative to mitigate climate change through afforestation and forest management therefore risks failure, unless it is recognized that not all forestry contributes to climate change mitigation."

Europe's woodland canopy fell by 190,000 sq km between 1750 and 1850, but has since grown by 386,000 sq km and now covers 10 oer cent more land than before the industrial revolution. But Europe's largely managed modern forests differ considerably in species makeup and "tidiness" from their wild forebears.

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