The global potential for increased storage of carbon on land

Wayne S. Walker, Seth R. Gorelik , Susan C. Cook-Patton, Alessandro Baccini, Mary K. Farina, Kylen K. Solvik, Peter W. Ellis, Jon Sanderman, Richard A. Houghton, Sara M. Leavitt, Christopher R. Schwalm, Bronson W. Griscom


Constraining the climate crisis requires urgent action to reduce anthropogenic emissions while simultaneously removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Improved information about the maximum magnitude and spatial distribution of opportunities for additional land-based removals of CO2is needed to guide on-the-ground decision-making about where to implement climate change mitigation strategies. Here, we pre-sent a globally consistent spatial dataset (approximately 500-m resolution) of current, potential, and unrealized potential carbon storage in woody plant biomass and soil organic matter. We also provide a framework for prioritizing actions related to the restoration, management, and maintenance of woody carbon stocks and associated soils. By comparing current to potential carbon storage, while excluding areas critical to food production and human habitation, we find 287 peta grams (PgC) of unrealized potential storage opportunity, of which 78% (224 PgC) is in biomass and 22% (63 PgC) is in soil. Improved management of existing forests may offer nearly three-fourths (206PgC) of the total unrealized potential, with the majority (71%) concentrated in tropical ecosystems. However, climate change is a source of considerable uncertainty. While additional research is needed to understand the impact of natural disturbances and bio-physical feedbacks, we project that the potential for additional carbon storage in woody biomass will increase (+17%) by 2050 despite projected decreases (212%) in the tropics. Our results establish an absolute reference point and conceptual framework for national and jurisdictional prioritization of locations and actions to increase land-based carbon storage.

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