Global forest conservation schemes designed to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation may just shift carbon emissions into non-forested areas. According to a study published online this week in Nature Climate Change, conservation schemes that focus only on forests may fail to significantly reduce carbon emissions from land-use change if the carbon protected in forest ecosystems instead ‘leaks’ from unprotected non-forested areas.
Concerns about the carbon efficacy of forest conservation schemes have centred on the challenges of securing a global scheme to prevent the transfer of deforestation to non-participating nations. Alexander Popp and colleagues investigate whether a successful globally implemented forest protection scheme alone would be sufficient to make significant carbon savings.
They estimate that cropland expansion into non-forested areas could release 96 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2100, compared with 77 gigatons CO2 saved by forest conservation. The authors conclude that effective mitigation requires financing structures and conservation investments that cover the full range of carbon-rich ecosystems. They do caution, however, that greater improvements in agricultural productivity would be needed to compensate for their proposed restrictions on expansion of cropland.