Not Just Carbon: Capturing All the Benefits of Forests for Stabilizing the Climate from Local to Global Scales

This report summarizes the science on the biophysical effects of deforestation on climate stability and explores the policy implications of the resulting impacts at three scales: global climate policy, regional cooperation on precipitation management, and national policies related to agriculture and public health. For each of these policy arenas, there are promising entry points to address current gaps through innovations in policies and institutions.


Forests have significant—and overwhelmingly positive—effects on climate stability through biophysical processes that affect transfers of energy and moisture in the atmosphere, contributing to food and water security, protecting human health, and enhancing our ability to adapt to a warming planet. Accounting for these processes can significantly affect estimates of the impacts of deforestation on the global climate based on their interaction with the carbon cycle alone, rendering the global cooling effect of avoiding tropical deforestation as much as 50 percent greater.

Removal of forest cover, especially in the tropics, increases local temperatures and disrupts rainfall patterns in ways that compound the local effects of global climate change, threatening severe consequences for human health and agricultural productivity. By failing to take these biophysical effects into account, current policies systematically undervalue forests’ climate services, fail to anticipate the full range of climate risks associated with deforestation, and result in inequitable allocation of responsibilities and resources within and between nations.

Policymakers should urgently recognize and address the full range of forests’ climate regulation services through institutions operating at relevant scales, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), institutions for regional cooperation, and domestic agencies charged with promoting agricultural productivity and protecting public health.

Cover Image by: Neil Palmer/CIAT

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