Forest restoration: carbon, water and so much more

This blogpost, highlighting findings from a recently published paper in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, explores how restoring drylands with the right trees tackles climate change by improving water cycles and could create carbon credit opportunities.

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Photo: Douglas Sheil

Forests and trees do so much more than simply capturing carbon. While carbon storage provides a vital service, a focus on the crucial role of carbon alone neglects the many other vital contributions forests make. For example, their role in sustaining biodiversity, contributing to local people, and maintaining the water cycle, require greater emphasis. In our essay we emphasize the importance of considering water alongside carbon when planning dryland restoration efforts. With the right tree species in the right locations, we can improve both carbon capture and the water cycle.

We argue that in case of drylands, changes in atmospheric water should be recognised as human-induced factor for enhanced global warming. Our argument is that vast areas of dryland forests have been cleared over the last 2 centuries, which has resulted in desiccation, i.e. reduced condensation and thus less cooling of the atmosphere.

In other words, human-induced deforestation enhanced the greenhouse effect of water vapor in the atmosphere and should therefore be recognised as direct effect determining climate change. If recognized, we can express this effect in CO2 equivalents and use existing markets to fund restoration of deforested drylands.

This is, admittedly, a bold idea. The effects of trees and forests on local hydrology, albedo, and atmospheric moisture content is much debated in the scientific community as they depend on local orographic conditions, distance to sea, tree cover and species composition, and so on.

Nevertheless, at a larger scale, desiccation by deforestation and rewetting by reforestation is increasingly recognized. With the right tree species in the right locations, we can improve both carbon capture and the water cycle. This could form the base to improve the land and lives of those living there. Water matters because everything else depends on it.

Blog post by Koen Kramer and Douglas Sheil.

Read the full article

Full reference

Kramer, K., & Sheil, D. 2024. Restoring deforested drylands for a wetter future – harnessing trees for credits, climate and water. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 7.

SOURCEKoen Kramer and Douglas Sheil
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EFIMED is the Mediterranean Facility of the European Forest Institute. Based in Barcelona, Spain, it was launched in 2007.