This is part one of a series on sequestering carbon in native forests. It is just a brief overview of the topic; in future posts I will go into more depth. All the references will appear in the final post.
But basically, trees are awesome!
In the challenge to stabilise levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, sequestering carbon in terrestrial systems is potentially a highly effective part of the solution.
In Australia this can be achieved by planting native trees with the goal of sequestrating carbon or managing pre-existing stands with that end in mind. Planting the trees in low to medium rainfall areas (450 – 700mm/year) is ideal as those areas are not typically prime agricultural land.
If managed properly within natural systems, these forests can not only sequester carbon but also bring about additional benefits such as increased biodiversity and increased soil health.
Many types of forests, such as wild forests, plantation, agro-forests, urban forests and so on can be used for sequestering carbon but this paper will focus on native forests in rural and regional areas (‘forest’ here meaning an area that covers at least 0.2 ha, has a canopy cover of at least 20% and has to potential to grow to at least two metres in height).
Current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide cannot be mitigated only by changing energy production to low emissions technology; as well as not putting more CO2 into the atmosphere some must be taken out in the next few years if warming is to be stabilised at 2°C.
Globally, deforestation accounts for roughly a quarter of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (Kindermann et al, 2008); in Australia the clearing of native vegetation accounts for 13% of annual emissions (Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, 2009). It is estimated that, if managed properly, natural biophysical processes in the Australian landscape could store 1 000 million tonnes of CO2 every year for the next forty years (CSIRO, 2009).
In light of this, a large part of Australia’s climate change mitigation strategy should be to manage plant and native forests to naturally sequester carbon and return it to both living tissue and the soil. Low to medium rainfall areas are suitable for growing trees for that purpose as it will not overly compete with food crops in highly arable land nor does it need infrastructure such as logging roads like commercial timber operations do (Walsh et al, 2008).
There are many additional benefits to carefully managing native forests, including an alternative and relatively stable income for landholders, an increase in local biodiversity, and in soil health.
This is a good example of geography in it’s awesome and exciting sense; humans interacting with a system (the forest) to ameliorate another system (the climate). Of course, one could argue that we just shouldn’t have messed with the climate in the first place and that’s true, but it’s not really a helpful sentiment; the problem is there, let’s solve it!
And seriously; it’s cool that planting some native forests can provide habitat, benefits for the soil, income for farmers, aesthetic values, reduces the risk of erosion and helps manage water all on the side of tackling climate change!
Trees, man. Trees are great.