Tropical forests used to protect us from climate change. Now, scientists say, they’re making it worse
A surprising scientific study released Thursday presents troubling news about the enormous forests of the planet's tropical midsection — suggesting that they are releasing hundreds of millions of tons of carbon to the atmosphere, rather than storing it in the trunks of trees and other vegetation.
The results, published in the journal Science, contradict prior work in suggesting that these forests — including the Amazon rain forest but also huge tropical forests in Indonesia, Congo and elsewhere — have become another net addition to the climate change problem. However, the accounting also implies that if the current losses could be reversed, the forests could also rapidly transform into a powerful climate change solution.
"The losses due to deforestation and degradation are actually emitting more CO2 to the atmosphere, compared with how much the existing forest is able to absorb," said Alessandro Baccini, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the Woods Hole Research Center. He conducted the study with fellow scientists from Woods Hole and Boston University.