No time to waste: Tropical forests become source of global warming

Terry Sunderland, a collaborating author of the Nature article “Asynchronous carbon sink saturation in African and Amazonian tropical forests,” is a senior associate with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and professor in the Faculty of Forestry at Canada’s University of British Columbia.

According to findings of research published last week in Nature, Tropical forests are losing the capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere, which could have dramatic implications for their potential to mitigate the impact of global warming.

Intact tropical forests are a vital global carbon sink, slowing climate change through carbon sequestration, a process through carbon is removed naturally from the atmosphere and stored in trees.

Climate models upon which targets in most international agreements – including the U.N. Paris Agreement — are based, typically predict that tropical forests will act as a carbon sink for decades.

However, during investigations led by Wannes Hubau at Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa and Simon Lewis at Britain’s University of Leeds, we have learned that their storage capacity is decreasing.

With contributions by researchers at almost 100 institutions, Hubau and Lewis oversaw a major project, tracking 300,000 trees over 30 years in 565 tropical forests throughout Africa and the Amazon.