Large carbon sink potential of secondary forests in the Brazilian Amazon to mitigate climate change

Tropical secondary forests sequester carbon up to 20 times faster than old-growth forests. This rate does not capture spatial regrowth patterns due to environmental and disturbance drivers. Here we quantify the influence of such drivers on the rate and spatial patterns of regrowth in the Brazilian Amazon using satellite data. Carbon sequestration rates of young secondary forests (<20 years) in the west are ~60% higher (3.0 ± 1.0 Mg C ha−1 yr−1) compared to those in the east (1.3 ± 0.3 Mg C ha−1 yr−1). Disturbances reduce regrowth rates by 8–55%. The 2017 secondary forest carbon stock, of 294 Tg C, could be 8% higher by avoiding fires and repeated deforestation. Maintaining the 2017 secondary forest area has the potential to accumulate ~19.0 Tg C yr−1 until 2030, contributing ~5.5% to Brazil’s 2030 net emissions reduction target. Implementing legal mechanisms to protect and expand secondary forests whilst supporting old-growth conservation is, therefore, key to realizing their potential as a nature-based climate solution.

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