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The role of forests in climate change

Written by
Poppy Stringer
3
min read
July 27, 2023

Forests play a crucial role in mitigating climate change. They are what's known as natural carbon sinks which means they have an ability to absorb and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide. This process reduces the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and therefore helps to regulate the global climate and keep temperatures down.

A large body of forest and water

However, in the last 30 years, the rate of deforestation has increased dramatically mostly due to an increase in agricultural expansion and industrial agriculture. Large areas of forests are cleared to make space for urbanization or cattle and the wood is harvested for large projects, particularly construction. 

According to Earth.Org our planet loses around 10 million hectares of forests each year, which is roughly the equivalent to losing forests the size of Poland or Germany each year. Perhaps an even more shocking statistic is that we are losing forests at a rate equivalent to 27 soccer fields per minute.

A damaged, burnt forest clearing

Clearly, the numbers are staggering but what is the effect of this deforestation in terms of climate change? 

The release of greenhouse gas emissions 

As forests are carbon sinks, when they are cut down or burnt the carbon stored in their leaves, roots and soil is released back into the atmosphere as CO2, intensifying greenhouse gas concentrations and subsequently warming the earth. 

An increased number of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere 

Reducing the number of carbon sinks in the world at the rate we currently are, prevents there being enough natural carbon capture to keep up with the rate of urbanization and carbon release. Whilst forests alone are not enough to absorb all the CO2 we release annually they certainly play a large role and when these are destroyed the concentration of greenhouse gasses only increases which exacerbates climate change. 

A loss of biodiversity 

Forests contain over 80% of the world's biodiversity supporting a remarkable range of plant and animal species. When the forests are cut down habitats are lost and both fauna and flora are destroyed. It is crucial that biodiversity is maintained within forests as diverse ecosystems are better equipped to withstand and recover from disturbances such as extreme weather events, droughts, and pest outbreaks caused by climate change. The variety of species and genetic diversity within ecosystems provide buffers against environmental changes, ensuring the continuation of diverse ecosystems and supporting the well-being of human communities which rely on them.

A black bear in the forest

Altered climate patterns 

Forests play a crucial role in regulating local and regional climate patterns through various mechanisms. They influence temperature and precipitation patterns, creating a stable microclimate. Deforestation disrupts these climate patterns, leading to increased temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, and changes in wind patterns. These changes can have significant impacts on local ecosystems, agriculture, and water resources and can cause an increase in extreme weather events. A loss of forests also creates a drier climate due to the barren land, this can affect the yields of crops and the growth of other plants in nearby areas. 

The effects of deforestation are detrimental to the health of our planet. Forests, as carbon sinks, play a huge role in climate change and removing these natural carbon barriers only exacerbates the effects of climate change. Protecting and restoring forests is an essential strategy in mitigating climate change. 

At SKOOT we understand the importance of trees and forests which is why we have made such a concerted effort to focus on tree planting in the face of the carbon crisis. We have planted over 800,000 trees so far with the number only increasing.

Poppy Stringer

Our eco-conscious blog writer. Passionate about sustainability, she's on a mission to combat ecosystem decline with insightful blogs, driven by her concern for the planet's future.