The Impact of Deforestation on Carbon Storage

The Impact of Deforestation on Carbon Storage

A one degree change in temperature could have catastrophic consequences.

One of the most notable influences on rising global average temperatures comes from deforestation. In fact, combined emissions from deforestation are higher than the annual emissions of any other country (apart from the U.S. and China) and contribute to roughly 12% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

This graphic from The LEAF Coalition takes a closer look at the impact deforestation has on global greenhouse gas emissions through carbon storage.

The Short and Long-Term Impacts

The devastating impact deforestation has on the environment cannot be understated. By some estimates, 30% of the globe’s carbon emissions are absorbed by forests each year. Yet 3.75 million hectares of tropical primary rainforest were lost in 2021, equating to 10 football pitches per minute.

However, the problem deforestation poses is actually two-fold—carbon stocks in the short-term and carbon sequestration in the long-run.

Forests have powerful carbon stocking capabilities. This refers to their ability to store carbon in biomass like their roots, trunks, and branches. Here’s how global carbon stocking by ecosystems compare:

EcosystemEstimated Carbon Stock (Gt)Annual Loss Rate
Tropical moist forests295 Gt0.45%
Boreal forests283 Gt0.18%
Temperate broadleaf forests133 Gt0.35%
Temperate conifer forests66 Gt0.28%
Tropical dry forests14 Gt0.58%

Once deforestation commences, all the carbon once stored begins to release into the atmosphere. This directly contributes to higher emissions.

Next, is carbon sequestration, which is the process in which carbon is removed from the atmosphere. Every year, forests capture and extract anywhere from 0.5 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) for boreal forests to 1.19 GtC for tropical intact forests. Unfortunately, deforestation removes the ability for standing forests to sequester carbon entirely.

The Way Forward

The world lost more than 10 million hectares of primary tropical forest in 2021. This goes directly against the need to cut deforestation by 75% by 2030 in order to keep our global average temperatures at 1.5℃.

Here are some other facts on the deforestation that has occurred over the last three decades:

  • Latin America and Africa have had the highest levels of deforestation
  • 43% of countries have seen a net reduction in their forest area
  • Since 1990, the world has lost 4% of its forests—equivalent to 685k square miles

Swift action is required in order to slow deforestation and decelerate rising average temperatures. See how The LEAF Coalition, a public-private initiative is accelerating climate action by providing results-based finance to countries committed to protecting tropical forests.

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