Carbon capture still sound like science fiction? Well, there’s already a proven, organic solution you may have heard of that has worked for millions of years – it’s called the forest.
We need to start capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to have a chance of achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals. Letting the world’s forests grow larger is one way of doing so. Large sums are now invested in innovative technical solutions that may one day enable us to store large volumes of carbon dioxide in the ground. But what about good old-fashioned forests? It’s elementary biology: as forests grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the air via photosynthesis. This applies not only to trees and plants, but mineral soils and dead organic material can also store carbon.
On the other hand, forests can also emit carbon when they burn, are harvested and the like. That’s why forests are referred to both as carbon sinks and carbon sources. The way forestry is implemented plays a major role in this balance. Modern forest management and plant breeding has made trees grow both faster and more densely. There is, however, a limit to how much the carbon total can increase in managed forests. After this point, the forests become a sort of zero-sum game in terms of the balance between being a carbon source and carbon sink.
The same does not apply to unmanaged forests around the world. In forests that can continue to grow freely over long durations of time, more and more carbon can be stored.
Old forests store more carbon
As numerous researchers have noted, ancient rainforests in the tropics as well as European old-growth forests are very valuable as carbon sinks (even if they also emit carbon). There are several international projects where companies can choose to protect rainforest as a means of compensating their emissions. For example, all shipments to customers from the retailer Globetrotter Ausrüstung are carbon-neutral, thanks to an investment called Globetrotter Vision Forest in Costa Rica.
Yet there are many uncertainties surrounding exact measurement of how many tons of carbon dioxide a forest sequesters and emits. An easier approach is to simply donate money to protect old-growth forests. You may not know exactly how much carbon dioxide you have helped remove from the atmosphere, but as you wander between the tall, tranquil trees you will still probably feel that you made the right choice.