Are forests a solution to climate change?

In response to the COVID-19 lockdown, which did not permit gatherings, the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly launched Sharing Geoscience Online. Over 26 000 geoscientists came together in 721 live text chats where over 200 000 messages were posted during the event. Among the many contributions by WMO, the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) organized one of the live sessions: a Great Debate where panellists were asked “Are forests a solution to climate change?”

The panellists – Prof. Gensuo Jia, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, Dr Bronson W. Griscom, Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, United States of America, Dr Luciana Vanni Gatti, National Institute for Space Research, Earth System Science Center, Brazil, and Dr Catherine Scott, NERC Independent Research Fellow, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, United Kingdom – engaged more than 600 listeners. They discussed the potential of forests, including their afforestation and reforestation, as part of nature-based solutions, and asked if their capacity to take up CO₂ could be increased through changes in management. However, forests are living ecosystems and there are many factors that humans cannot control which can have an impact on a forest’s capacity to take up CO₂, such as changing climatic conditions. The increase in greening that has been observed from satellites demonstrates the fertilization effect of CO₂ on forests, but forests do not only take up CO₂, they are also sources of methane and reactive constituents that impact climate in the short term.

In the Declaration of the Significance of Geoscience Expertise to Meet Global Societal Challenges, issued at the beginning of the online conference, EGU and its partners recognize their shared responsibility “to utilize scientific research results to increase societal resilience to single, multiple and potentially interrelated threats” whose cascading effects can only be understood by carrying out complex analyses in which geoscientists have particular expertise. The science for services approach being implemented by the WMO research programmes follows similar principles, manifested in WMO strategic goal 3: “Advance targeted research: Leveraging leadership in science to improve understanding of the Earth system for enhanced services.”

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