Our Forests Can Slow Climate Change. A New Report Shows Exactly How Much

Each year, nearly 1 million acres of forest across the continental U.S. are lost to development and other uses; Massachusetts alone loses an average of 5,000 acres of forest annually. Deforestation not only releases forest carbon to the atmosphere from the destruction of trees, but also erases one of the best tools we have for drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere — forest growth.

What would happen if we halted this deforestation? Would doing so help slow climate change, and how much?

Christopher A. Williams, professor in Clark’s Graduate School of Geography investigated the answers to these questions a new study released by Clark University.  A ground-breaking new study, “Avoided Deforestation: A Climate Mitigation Opportunity in New England and New York,” measures the climate mitigation that could be achieved in seven states across the northeastern U.S. (New York state, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts) if they were able to turn deforestation around and prevent this forest loss. By leveraging extensive satellite remote sensing datasets, forest plot measurements, and geospatial scientific computing, the Clark research team was able to identify locations plagued by significant forest loss in recent decades, to assess the associated carbon emissions, and, for the first time, to quantify the amount of future carbon sequestration and storage lost through deforestation.

“The carbon impacts really add up, equaling 2 percent of all fossil fuel emissions in New England and New York state, and 5 percent in New Hampshire and even 7 percent in Maine,” Williams said. “The study clearly shows that slowing the pace of forest loss is an important instrument in the fight against climate change.”  Williams noted that several state agencies wrote letters in support of the funding request, recognizing the importance of the information for state-level management and policy, and have been actively involved all along the way.

Read the full Report here.