Story at a glance

  • Scientists published new research that physically mapped the irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems.
  • They said that since 2010, agriculture, logging and wildfire have caused emission of at least 4 gigatonnes of irrecoverable carbon.
  • Currently 23 percent of irrecoverable carbon is within protected areas and 33 percent is managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities.

New research found that if tropical forests and peatlands around the world are destroyed because of climate change, the damage could be irrecoverable.

Scientists published research on Thursday that physically mapped the irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems. They said that since 2010, agriculture, logging and wildfire have caused emission of at least 4 gigatonnes of irrecoverable carbon and the world's remaining 139 gigatonnes faces risks from land-use conversion and climate change. 

Scientists estimated that currently 23 percent of irrecoverable carbon is within protected areas and 33 percent is managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities. That means the remaining half of Earth’s irrecoverable carbon is sitting on just 3 percent of its land.

Monica Noon, lead author of the study, told The Guardian that, “these are the areas that really cannot be recovered in our generation – it is our generation’s carbon to protect. But with irrecoverable carbon concentrated in a relatively small area of land, the world could protect the majority of these climate-essential places by 2030.”


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The largest and highest density irrecoverable carbon reserves are in tropical forests and peatlands of the Amazon, the Congo Basin, the Insular Southeast Asia, the temperate rainforest of northwestern North America, the peatlands and associated forests of eastern Canada and western Siberia and mangroves and tidal wetlands globally. 

In the new research, scientists found 57 percent of irrecoverable carbon was in trees and plants and 43 percent was in soils, but global peatlands store more carbon than tropical and subtropical forests.

According to The Guardian, Russia hosts the biggest store of irrecoverable carbon, at 23 percent, and it's been hit by a series of wildfires in recent years. Brazil is second, which has also suffered from severe deforestation. Canada is third and the U.S. fifth, together accounting for 14 percent of the world’s irrecoverable carbon. Yet both countries have also been victims of wildfires, pests and logging. 

Just a few months ago in July, researchers also found that the Amazon rainforest was actually emitting more carbon that it absorbed. 

Rob Filed, a conservation scientist at the RSPB in the U.K., also told The Guardian that, “Protection of irrecoverable carbon, coupled with widespread decarbonization of the world’s economies, will make a safe climate more likely, at the same time as conserving important areas for biodiversity.”


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Published on Nov 20, 2021