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Establishing new forests as a means to mitigate carbon emissions offers limited benefits for biodiversity and, in some cases, may have adverse consequences, according to a recent study conducted in the United Kingdom. The research indicates that a significant portion of these newly created tree plantations are located on previously non-forested lands, resulting in minimal overall improvements in biodiversity.

Ecological value of newly planted forests cannot match natural forests

While there has been a notable increase in the establishment of commercial tree plantations with the goal of mitigating carbon emissions, the authors strongly emphasize the importance of giving priority to the preservation and rejuvenation of pristine ecosystems. In their publication, a group from the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University underscores that freshly cultivated forests cannot rival natural ones when it comes to their ecological significance.

According to Dr. Jesús Aguirre-Gutiérrez from the Environmental Change Institute at the University, despite the diverse array of functions and services offered by tropical ecosystems, contemporary society tends to overly simplify their worth, primarily focusing on a single metric—carbon. Dr. Aguirre-Gutiérrez emphasizes the importance of policies, both current and forthcoming, steering clear of endorsing ecosystem deterioration through the promotion of tree plantations solely aimed at carbon sequestration.

While certain endeavors focus on the restoration of deteriorated land through reforestation, numerous initiatives aim to promote afforestation by creating forests in untouched regions, such as grasslands, which were not previously wooded.

Carbon-capture forests lead to reduced biodiversity

Natural tropical ecosystems are diverse and provide essential services like water quality maintenance, soil health, and pollination. In contrast, carbon-capture plantations typically consist of monocultures with a limited range of tree species for timber and other purposes, leading to reduced biodiversity. For example, in the Brazilian Cerrado savannah, increasing tree cover by 40 percent reduced plant and ant diversity by about 30 percent.

Additionally, tropical grasslands and savannahs already serve as carbon sinks and are more resilient to disturbances like droughts and fires. These carbon-focused plantations may harm ecosystems by reducing stream flows, depleting groundwater, and acidifying soils.