Forests re-grown on cleared lands in LatAm key for climate, land rights - study

by Chris Arsenault | @chrisarsenaul | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 13 May 2016 18:00 GMT

A general view shows land recently burned by forest fires on a hill in Alban municipality near Bogota, Colombia, in this 2015 file photo. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

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For regenerating forests to meet potential, governments must ensure land is protected, researchers say

By Chris Arsenault

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Forests re-grown on lands that had been cleared for agriculture in Latin America could play a key role in trapping carbon from the atmosphere and mitigating climate change if they are managed properly, researchers said in a study published on Friday.

Over the next 40 years, such second-growth forests have the potential to sequester greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to all fossil fuel and industrial emissions from Latin America in the past two decades, said the study by scientists at the University of Connecticut.

While preventing deforestation is the best protection against releasing climate-changing gases, the study published in the journal Science Advances shows that re-grown forests have a bigger impact in combating global warming than previously thought.

"Avoiding deforestation and supporting forest regeneration are complementary and mutually reinforcing activities," said Robin Chazdon, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut and lead author of the study.

An aerial view of ovens used to make charcoal from wood is seen in a traditional charcoal factory in the Amazon city of Boa Vista, Brazil, in this 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

For re-growing forests to live up to their potential in sucking carbon out of the atmosphere in the tropics, governments across Latin America need to work with local communities to ensure the land is protected, Chazdon said.

"There is a huge link between land rights and (forest regeneration)," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"If people don't own the land, they don't have incentives in its future... There is also a huge potential for community management of some of these restored forests."

It takes between 40 and 60 years for forests to re-grow much of their carbon storage potential following deforestation, the study said.

This process works efficiently if local people are involved in managing the transition and protecting the re-growth, Chazdon said.

A family is pictured outside their house in Rio Pardo next to Bom Futuro National Forest, in the district of Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, in this 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

In many cases, especially when small plots of land are cleared for agriculture or livestock, tropical forests can regenerate themselves, without the need to physically replant trees, she said.

Brazil's re-growing forests hold the bulk of Latin America's carbon storage potential - 71 percent - followed by Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico.

The potential of second-growth forests to sequester carbon could provide a solution for countries in Latin America to meet both their climate change and forest management goals, the study said.

(Reporting by Chris Arsenault, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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