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Effects of Earth system feedbacks on the potential mitigation of large-scale tropical forest restoration

Brierley, C; Lewis, S; Koch, A; (2021) Effects of Earth system feedbacks on the potential mitigation of large-scale tropical forest restoration. Biogeosciences , 18 (8 BG) pp. 2627-2647. 10.5194/bg-18-2627-2021. Green open access

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Abstract

To achieve the Paris Agreement requires aggressive mitigation strategies alongside negative emission technologies. Recent studies suggest that increasing tree cover can make a substantial contribution to negative emissions, with the tropics being the most suitable region from a biogeophysical perspective. Yet these studies typically do not account for subsequent carbon cycle and climate responses to large-scale land-use change. Here we quantify the maximum potential temperature and CO2 benefits from pantropical forest restoration, including the Earth system response, using a fully coupled, emission-driven Earth system model (HadGEM2-ES). We perform an idealised experiment where all land use in the tropics is stopped and vegetation is allowed to recover, on top of an aggressive mitigation scenario (RCP2.6). We find that tropical restoration of 1529 Mha increases carbon stored in live biomass by 130 Pg C by 2100 CE. Whilst avoiding deforestation and tropical restoration in the tropics removes 42 Pg C compared to RCP2.6, the subsequent reduction in extratropical and ocean carbon uptake means that carbon in the atmosphere only reduces by 18 Pg C by 2100. The resulting small CO2 (9 ppm) benefit does not translate to a detectable reduction in global surface air temperature compared to the control experiment. The greatest carbon benefit is achieved 30–50 years after restoration before the Earth system response adjusts to the new land-use regime and declining fossil fuel use. Comparing our results with previous modelling studies, we identify two model-independent key points: (i) in a world where emission reductions follow the Paris Agreement, restoration is best deployed immediately, and (ii) the global carbon cycle response to reduced emissions limits the efficacy of negative emissions technologies by more than half. We conclude that forest restoration can reduce peak CO2 mid-century, but it can only modestly contribute to negative emissions.

Type: Article
Title: Effects of Earth system feedbacks on the potential mitigation of large-scale tropical forest restoration
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.5194/bg-18-2627-2021
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-18-2627-2021
Language: English
Additional information: © Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Geography
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10126877
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