Establishing hundreds of millions of hectares of new canopy cover would imply massive investments.
Photo: Silvia Richter


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Forest restoration bears a considerable carbon storage potential and can support efforts to mitigate climate change. However, its role should not be overestimated, and neither should the costs involved in forest restoration be underrated, our authors warn. They recommend realistic models to back decision-making in what is clearly a highly complex area.

Forest restoration is one of the most ecologically beneficial land use choices at our disposal. It can help us regulate water and nutrient cycles, reduce soil erosion and degradation and conserve biodiversity. For many people, forest restoration also increases the aesthetic, cultural, and recreational value of our landscapes.

In times of global warming, forest restoration has been lauded as a prime solution for climate change mitigation. Trees store lots of carbon, so it seems evident that additional trees or more mature forests can support our quest to curb anthropogenic climate change. But just how much support can we expect from forest restoration? A recent study by Bastin et al. (2019, Science 365, 76-79) claims that forest restoration could potentially store an additional 205 billion tons (1 billion tons = 1 gigatonne – Gt) of carbon. Indeed, sequestering this amount would render forest restoration a major part of the solution to our climate woes.

Constraints to forest restoration

Unfortunately, the actual solution potential of forest restoration is probably a lot lower.

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