Forests absorb one-third of global fossil fuel emissions
Research published in the journal Science, co-authored by Dr Simon Lewis, has established that the world's forests remove 8.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from the earth's atmosphere.
In addition, regrowth of trees on previously deforested lands in the tropics mopped up a further 6 billion tonnes of CO2 annually between 1990 and 2007. However, deforestation across the tropics released a huge 10.8 billion tonnes of CO2 annually during this period, off-setting much of the uptake of CO2 by the world's forests. For comparison, global fossil fuel emissions average 28 billion tonnes of CO2 annually.
The findings suggest that the world's tropical, temperate and boreal forests play a much larger role in the global cycling of carbon than previously thought, and that protecting them is vital in limiting the severity of future climate change.
Dr Simon Lewis, a tropical ecologist at the University, said: "Humans are altering the world's forests in a number of ways, from their outright destruction to the much more subtle impacts on even the most remote forests caused by global changes to the environment.
"Our research shows these changes are having globally important impacts, which highlights the critical role forests play in the global cycling of carbon and therefore the speed and severity of future climate change.
"The practical importance of this new information is that if schemes to reduce deforestation are successful they would have significant positive global impacts, as would similar efforts promoting forest restoration."
Read more about this research.