How does cutting down trees affect climate change

What is the role of deforestation in climate change and how can 'Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation' (REDD+) help?

8 January, 2018

What is the scale of deforestation and its role in climate change?

Forests and trees store carbon. When they are degraded or completely cleared, e.g. by fire – a process referred to as deforestation – this stored carbon has the potential to be released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change.

In the last decade, the largest amounts of deforestation occurred across the humid tropics. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that around 129 million hectares of forest – almost equivalent to the area of South Africa – were lost between 1990 and 2015. Overall, the annual rate of net loss has slowed: from 0.18% in the 1990s to 0.08% (3.3 million hectares a year) from 2010 to 2015. But the area lost in 2016 was 51% higher than in the previous year, primarily due to forest fires. Other significant causes of deforestation include the clearance by agribusinesses of huge tracts of forest to make way for monoculture farms producing high-value cash crops like palm oil and soya, and for cattle ranching.

Deforestation contributes up to 10% of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity, according to 2013 figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This figure rises to 15% if forest degradation (changes that negatively affect a forest’s structure or function but that do not decrease its area), and tropical peatland emissions are included. Tropical forests now emit more carbon than they capture, due to deforestation and degradation, so that they are no longer a carbon ‘sink’, according to a study published in 2017 using satellite data from 2003–14.

What is ‘REDD+’, how does it work and what are its aims?

Scientists have recognised the value of protecting forests in tackling climate change. In response, policymakers have developed a family of policies – collectively known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) – to provide a financial incentive to governments, agribusinesses and communities to maintain and possibly increase, rather than reduce forest cover. Under REDD+, incentives for forest protection are offered to countries, communities and individual landowners in exchange for slowing deforestation, and carrying out activities that promote reforestation and sustainable forest management. Where local people are properly involved in the REDD+ process it may also help alleviate rural poverty. The principles of REDD+ were further reinforced in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

REDD+ policies operate through a variety of mechanisms, including those administered by the United Nations (UN-REDD) and the World Bank (the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility). REDD+ finance is also considered in the international climate change negotiations, remains a key component of international climate finance discussions, and is often channelled through the voluntary carbon markets and via activities implemented by for- and non-profit organisations.

How fair, effective and efficient is REDD+?

While experts have demonstrated how REDD+ has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions, it is not without its problems. For example, some question the fairness of a scheme that focuses on reducing emissions caused by some of the world’s poorest people while emissions continue to rise in richer countries. Some developing countries may be wary of foreign interference in their land use policies. Researchers also highlight operational concerns – such as the difficulty in monitoring and measuring deforestation rates, or attributing changes in deforestation to REDD finance. Variations in local circumstances and institutional capacities mean that not all countries that have tropical forests possess the capabilities to address these challenges.

How much REDD+ finance has been pledged?

REDD+ finance to developing countries is still fairly limited in scale. This is a major barrier to the scaling up and hence the effectiveness of REDD+ to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation. Estimates of the global cost of REDD+ vary greatly but at least US$15bn would be needed annually to address tropical deforestation across the world. Current funding remains far off this mark, with Norway alone currently providing 61% of the total, having pledged just under $2.5bn to REDD+ funds from 2008–16. With limited finance available, it can be difficult to protect forests, as alternative land uses (such as palm oil) can offer more immediate and guaranteed cash returns.

Consequently, many experts have called for a scaling-up of commitments and finance flows – though some have argued that even if large-scale REDD+ finance does materialise it may still struggle to compete with other land uses, especially as commodity prices continue to rise.

Whatever becomes of REDD+ in the future, experts agree it should focus first on areas that can most efficiently provide CO2 reductions (such as tropical peat swamp forests) while also offering the potential for biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation.

This FAQ was updated in January 2018. The original FAQ was a reproduction of the following article: What’s REDD and will it help tackle climate change? © The Guardian, 2012, used under a Creative Commons No Derivative Works licence.

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What is the Relationship Between Deforestation And Climate Change?

What, exactly, is the relationship between deforestation and climate change? The Rainforest Alliance breaks down the numbers for you—and explains our innovative approach to keeping forests standing.

Among the many gifts forests give us is one we desperately need: help with slowing climate change. Trees capture greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide, preventing them from accumulating in the atmosphere and warming our planet.

When we clear forests, we’re not only knocking out our best ally in capturing the staggering amount of GHGs we humans create (which we do primarily by burning fossil fuels at energy facilities, and of course, in cars, planes, and trains). We’re also creating emissions by cutting down trees: when trees are felled, they release into the atmosphere all the carbon they’ve been storing. What the deforesters do with the felled trees—either leaving them to rot on the forest floor or burning them—creates further emissions. All told, deforestation on its own causes about 10 percent of worldwide emissions.

Healthy forests and vibrant communities are an essential part of the global climate solution. Sign up to learn more about our growing alliance.


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Knowing that deforestation robs us of a crucial weapon in the battle against climate change—and creates further emissions—why on Earth would anyone clear a forest? The main reason is agriculture. The world’s exploding population has made it profitable for big business to raze forests so it can plant mega crops like soy and oil palm; meanwhile, on a much, much smaller scale, subsistence farmers often clear trees so they can plant crops to feed their families and bring in small amounts of cash.

But there’s a tragic irony to clearing rainforests for agriculture: their underlying soils are extremely poor. All the nutrient-richness is locked up in the forests themselves, so once they are burned and the nutrients from their ashes are used up, farmers are left with utterly useless soil. So on they go to the next patch of forest: raze, plant, deplete, repeat. All told, agriculture is responsible for at least 80 percent of tropical deforestation.

Not surprisingly, agriculture causes emissions, too—in fact, farm emissions are second only to those of the energy sector in the dubious contest for the emissions title. In 2011, farms were responsible for about 13 percent of total global emissions. Most farm-related emissions come in the form of methane (cattle belching) and nitrous oxide (from fertilizers and the like).

All told, deforestation causes a triple-whammy of global warming:

  1. We lose a crucial ally in keeping excess carbon out of the atmosphere (and in slowing global warming),
  2. Even more emissions are created when felled trees release the carbon they’d been storing, and rot or burn on the forest floor, and
  3. What most often replaces the now-vanished forest, livestock and crops, generate massive amounts of even more greenhouse gases. Taken together, these emissions account for a quarter of all emissions worldwide.

Our accounting of the ugly impacts of deforestation only considers emissions and doesn’t even touched on how the lives and traditions of forest communities are ruined when forests are razed, or how many species of plants and animals are lost, upsetting the delicate balance of ecosystems. The uptick in mosquito-borne diseases, for example, or the rapid spread of roya, an insidious plant disease that threatens our supply of coffee are all indirect consequences of deforestation and global warming.

There’s no doubt about it: the best thing we can do to fight climate change is keep forests standing. Yet the need to feed a rapidly growing global population—projected to reach 9 billion by 2050—is urgent. That’s why the Rainforest Alliance works with farmers to advance a variety of strategies, such as crop intensification (growing more food on less land), and with traditional forest-dwellers to develop livelihoods that don’t hurt forests or ecosystems. We stand more of a chance in this fight with forests standing strong.


How forests will affect the future climate


Bare tundra is disappearing on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, bushes and willows are sprouting. Recently, they hardly reached the height of the knee, now they grow to 3 m in height, deer are hiding among them. Polls show that the Nenets Autonomous Okrug now has four times as many trees as official cadastres from the 1980s, writes the American scientific journal Science.

“Trees appear here and there, and some, like shrubs, grow taller,” says Dmitry Schepashchenko, a forest ecologist from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Austria), who mapped the greenery of the Siberian tundra. Across the Arctic Circle, trees are growing as the climate gets warmer. In Norway, birch and pine are marching poleward, eclipsing the tundra. In Alaska, spruces are replacing moss and lichen. Forest growth is not limited to the far north. Lower latitudes also see tree growth, in part because increased carbon dioxide concentrations allow plants to use water more efficiently and thrive in drier soils.

This is very different from what happens in the tropics, where hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest are lost each year to chainsaws and fires, and climate change is taking a toll on the remaining trees. But these losses in the tropics can be more than offset by gains elsewhere. This may sound like good news for curbing global warming. Forests often have a cooling effect by releasing organic compounds and water vapor that contribute to the formation of clouds. Moreover, faster growing trees will absorb more atmospheric carbon and keep it in the wood. But the calculation of climate impacts is far from certain, and new research shows that a forested world won't necessarily be cooler. New forests could increase warming in some areas, for example by reducing the amount of sunlight reflected into space.

To account for how forests will affect future climate, researchers must not only consider current trends such as deforestation, but also predict how powerful forces such as wildfire outbreaks and rising temperatures could affect forests, sometimes helping, and sometimes harming their ability to absorb atmospheric carbon. Historically, scientists have focused much of their attention on the loss side of the balance sheet, for example by quantifying the persistent erosion of tropical forests, one of the planet's major carbon sinks.

The news about the Amazon forest was almost always consistently bad. Since the 1970s, these forests have shrunk by about 18% due to deforestation. In 2007, Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) meteorologist Carlos Nobre warned that continued losses could turn the Amazon from a global carbon sink into a new carbon source. The scientist argued that deforestation would drier the rainforests, reduce tree growth and lead to their loss. According to INPE climate researcher Luciana Gatti, that prediction now appears to have come true. Based on measurements of atmospheric carbon collected during 590 research flights over the Amazon between 2010 and 2018, she reported that the southeastern Amazon is a region often referred to as the "arc of deforestation" where agriculture has swallowed up vast tracts. The years since 2018 have been "even worse" for the Amazon forest's ability to store carbon, Gatti said, as warming exacerbated the effects of deforestation. Longer dry seasons increase fire risk by accelerating the transformation of forests into more open savannahs.

At the same time, however, some tropical forests continue to sequester large amounts of carbon. For example, a study in lowland forests on the island of Borneo recently showed that a 1-hectare pristine area, where tree death is still rare, today contains an average of 20 tons more carbon than in 1958. But continued warming is working against rainforests, even those that are still intact. An international study that tracked 300,000 trees in more than 500 tracts of pristine rainforest over 30 years found that even without deforestation, their ability to sequester carbon dioxide peaked at 1990s and has since dropped by a third. The decline began in the Amazon and has spread to tropical Africa since 2010, says Simon Lewis, a plant ecologist at University College London, UK.

In cooler regions, climate trends are increasing both forest area and productivity. Sources of optimism are studies showing that higher levels of carbon dioxide are already helping forests increase biomass. For example, a widely cited 2016 study led by remote sensing researcher Zhu Zaichong of Peking University in China found that between a quarter and a half of the world's vegetated places with 1982 years there was an increase in leaf area.

As other research models show, in the future, an increase in carbon dioxide emissions will lead to an expansion of the world's forests. But many experts doubt these forecasts: one of the problems, they say, is that other factors can intervene. For example, deforestation may accelerate to meet growing global demand for food and resources.

Another major question is how a warmer, drier climate will affect wildfires. Research models have long warned that climate change will increase the risk of fires in tropical and temperate forests. Boreal forests may also be affected. Earlier this year, Global Forest Watch reported that boreal forests lost more than 8 million hectares in 2021, up 30% from 2020, and wildfires are largely to blame. But a fire could also allow some boreal forests to store more carbon, not less, because regenerating forests can create denser stands of species better suited to fires.

However, even if the models suggesting an increase in the planet's forest cover are correct, it is not yet clear how useful it could be to curb global warming. On the one hand, there is no doubt that forests can help cool the lower atmosphere. One way is to move large amounts of moisture from the soil into the air. This evaporation cools the air, as it takes energy to convert liquid water into steam. And the steam that is released, along with other organic compounds produced by trees, helps create clouds that can lower temperatures. Uneven forest cover also contributes to lower temperatures. Leaves and branches cause air currents to swirl and mix, helping to dissipate heat higher into the atmosphere. But it turns out that forests can also warm the planet, primarily by changing the reflectivity of the land surface. New forests are likely to have the greatest warming impact at high latitudes and high altitudes, where snow cover is extensive and long-lived, and low temperatures mean trees grow more slowly.

In Israel, Dan Yakir, a scientist from the Weizmann Institute of Science, observed the Yatir forest, 2 hours from Tel Aviv. The forest was created in the 1960s, when about 4 million Aleppo pines were planted. And today, this forest is often touted as a valuable carbon sink. However, so far, according to Yakir, any benefits from climate change are not clear. His study found that so far, the warming caused by the dark canopy of the pines has outpaced the cooling from carbon sequestration. However, as the trees grow, the scientist expects that the effect of cooling will increase - the intersection may not occur until the 2040s.

The question arises of how governments should account for new forests when they calculate their contribution to compliance with global climate agreements such as the Paris Agreement. Russia, for example, has calculated that about a quarter of its fossil fuel emissions are offset by its vast, carbon-sinking forests. And Shchepashchenko's discovery that Russia's boreal forests are expanding and storing even more carbon suggests that the country can go much further. “We have the potential to turn new forests into a major carbon sequestration center,” Alexei Chekunkov, Minister for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic, told Bloomberg last year.

Will millions of new trees save the climate? - reforestation is considered one of the best ways to stop climate change, maintain clean air and fertile soil. Trees are planted by employees of city services, companies, activists, students, schoolchildren.

Plus‑ figured out whether such promotions are always beneficial and what happens to planted trees.

Photo: iStock

Since 1990, our planet has lost 420 million hectares of forest due to logging for the needs of farmers, miners and industrialists. Equatorial forests are being destroyed the fastest. They are being destroyed by commercial logging and frequent fires: among the most affected countries are Brazil, Bolivia, and Indonesia. According to scientists from the University of Southampton (England) and George Mason University (Virginia, USA), if the current rate of deforestation continues, the Amazon rainforest will disappear in the next 50 years.

Europe did not escape the sad fate. Half of its territory is still covered by forests, which absorb almost 10% of all CO 9 emissions.0039 2 in the Old World. The dry summer in 2019 and 2020 caused terrible forest fires and massive tree disease. Over the past half century, the composition of European forests has changed and their ability to absorb carbon dioxide has decreased: the European Commission notes that due to increased demand for wood and more frequent fires, trees are less likely to reach the age at which they absorb the maximum amount of CO 2 .

The problem of deforestation is also acute in Russia. A fifth of all the world's forests grow in our country, which ensure the preservation of the Earth's climate. But as Mariana Hassegawa, a participant in the European Forest Institute's (EFI) study Russia's Forests and Climate Change, warns, "With current Russian forest management practices, global warming will not be able to be fixed even at around 2°C." Recall that such a restriction is established in the Paris Agreement, an international document on climate protection. The world is now on a warming trajectory of 3-5°C by the end of the century.

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Why is it time to quit fossil fuels or look for another planet? The main danger is the degradation of its composition: birches, aspens, lindens are replaced by oaks, ash and beeches. In addition to illegal logging and human-caused fires, the forest is threatened by the consequences of climate change — abnormal droughts, more frequent hurricanes, and an increase in the number of pests.

It is obvious that forest losses need to be replenished. But is it easy to do?

In 2020, the head of the EU Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, proposed planting 3 billion trees in the EU. Experts considered his words populism, diverting attention from the real problem of forest degradation. “I understand politicians, they need big headlines and simple solutions. Planting trees sounds very simple, Politico quotes Marc Palahi, director of the European Forest Institute. “Many people forget that planting a tree is not the end of a problem, but the beginning of a long-term project, because it can take 100 years to grow.”

In terms of the number of trees planted, India shares the palm with China. This is not surprising: since 1980, the country has lost 1.5 million hectares of forests, and local authorities are engaged in their massive restoration. In July 2016, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh set a world record with 800,000 volunteers planting 50 million trees in one day. Even the coronavirus pandemic did not stop the Indians - in 2020, volunteers planted 250 million seedlings in the same state.

However, the survival of trees planted in such massive campaigns remains in question. Usually only 60% of seedlings take root, the rest die from diseases and lack of water.

In 2019, Turkey declared National Reforestation Day. On November 11, the Breath for the Future campaign was held across the country, volunteers planted 11 million trees in more than 2,000 plots. The city of Çorum broke the world record for the number of trees planted in one place per hour: 303,150 seedlings.

Breath for the Future Campaign


0% of seedlings in six of Turkey's 81 provinces died. He explained that the trees were planted by "non-specialists" and at "the wrong time." In addition, in 2019, little rain fell in the country.

The planting of valuable mangrove forests in the tropics often turns out to be a failure. In 2017, a study of 23 planting sites in Sri Lanka found that more than half of the seedlings died and only three had more than 50% of young trees survive. In 2019, only 20% of mangrove seedlings took root in 74 sites in Thailand and the Philippines, which was directly related to the poor quality of care after planting.

“Reforestation project organizers focus more on the number of trees or the total area planted, rather than survival rates after a year,” says British biologist Mark Huxham. “If the site is suitable for the survival of trees, you need to make sure that there are both social and economic conditions necessary for this.”

For example, in Kenya, new mangrove forests are being cleared to build and fire stoves. “People are poor, and the state does not adequately enforce the law on the protection of mangrove forests. This means that if you plant more trees, they will simply be cut down,” the scientist explains.

In Russia, both state and public organizations are engaged in forest restoration. However, according to the data provided by the “green” Deputy Prime Minister Victoria Abramchenko, in our country the rate of forest restoration lags behind the rate of their deforestation by 400,000 hectares per year. In total, Russia needs to restore 35 million hectares, which is more than the area of ​​Finland.

“Officially, reforestation in Russia is carried out on an area of ​​more than 1 million hectares per year, but it gives a real effect at best on a few percent of the “restored” areas. The main part of the trees die from incorrectly chosen technologies for soil preparation, planting, poor quality of work and lack of subsequent care,” says Alexei Yaroshenko.

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The larger the planting, the more difficult it is to monitor the condition of seedlings and take care of them, especially in places where forests have not grown for at least the last 50 years. “The seedlings planted as part of the Breath for the Future campaign in 2019 and 2020, as well as hundreds of millions of trees planted annually outside of this campaign, are under the supervision of expert groups of the General Forestry Directorate. Until the young trees get stronger, they are looked after by experienced forest engineers and workers from our divisions in the provinces,” said Plus‑ Head of the General Directorate of Forestry under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Turkey Bekir Karachabey.

In Russia, many environmental organizations and projects are engaged in forest restoration by volunteers, among them are Greenpeace Russia, RusClimatFond, Plant a Forest. With the financial support of individuals and businesses, activists are planting trees where they died due to fires and other natural disasters. Organizations regularly publish reports on planting and subsequent care of young plants, and are engaged in environmental education.

RusClimatFond plants trees on the lands of the forest fund (lands intended for forestry. - Note Plus‑ and on specially protected natural areas (SPNA). In 2021, its specialists are going to support a project for the reclamation of dumps after asbestos mining in the Sverdlovsk Region. On specially prepared soil, species of trees that do not require special care will be planted - pines and birches.

“In my practice, I have come across various cases. The survival rate was very high - more than 90%, and low - up to 20%. If in the first years after planting it was below 75%, we planted trees. Many factors influence the survival rate: the season, the soil, and the weather. Taking care of seedlings is very important: clearing weeds, watering,” Marianna Munteanu, president of RusClimatFund, told Plus‑ .

Aleksey Yaroshenko agrees with her: “Forest restoration is a long process. If new trees are planted in a felled or burned area in order to obtain a valuable young forest, it must be looked after in a timely and proper manner for 20 years.”

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A big problem for young trees is careless handling of fire during the hot season. “For many years we have been planting forests with schoolchildren who live nearby and take care of their forest. Unfortunately, many landings were lost. The main reason is massive grass burns,” complains the head of the forestry department of Greenpeace Russia.

Experts interviewed by Plus‑ gave recommendations on forest restoration.


Study data on soil composition, rainfall patterns and fire risks in the selected area. The choice of planting site, type of trees, fertilizers and irrigation schedule depends on this.

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