Today we bring you a question, do forests absorb carbon or emit carbon? The answer a priori seems simple because we all know that planting trees helps the planet, so we should be able to say that on net forests absorb carbon. But sometimes the reality is more complex. It is not enough to plant entire forests and that’s it, let the trees do their job and we can relax. Let’s try to understand this.

Let’s start with a picture of the current forest situation in the European Union.

Because 1 picture is worth 1,000 words

Forests play an important role in moderating the net flux of some GHGs (greenhouse gases) between the land and the atmosphere and act as carbon storage reservoirs in biomass and soil. They act as carbon sinks when they increase in area or productivity, resulting in greater absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

But … forests fix CO2 through photosynthesis and store it in their biomass, so if the forest area decreases, the CO2 retained in existing carbon sinks is lost and the capacity to absorb more carbon is restricted.

And why is forest area decreasing if many of us are planting trees to offset our carbon footprint? Here are the main causes:

1.- Changes in land use, mainly deforestation in tropical areas. Forests are replaced by plantations or industrial farms (more carbon!)

2- Frequent forest fires and charcoal burning, which release the carbon retained in the trees.

Making the right forest management decisions can mean net reductions in GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions,

either by decreasing the contribution of forests to global net emissions

o by increasing their importance as carbon sinks.

Two main strategies therefore emerge within land use and forestry activities that can contribute to controlling CO2 levels in the atmosphere:

1.- Increase carbon sequestration by creating new and improved carbon sinks called “carbon capture or sequestration. This includes activities such as forest management to increase growth, afforestation, restoration of degraded forests and agroforestry.

Preventing the release of carbon already fixed, through the conservation of forest ecosystems, sustainable forest management and fire protection.

Well, the question seemed simple, but the reality is too complex. As a conclusion we could say: