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Thu Apr 16, 2020, 11:08 PM

The Carbon We Can't Afford to Lose

We have protected areas for wildlife; we need to protect ecosystems whose death could release massive amounts of CO2 as well

By Allie Goldstein on April 15, 2020

Mangrove forest. Credit: Somnuk Krobkum Getty Images

Protected areas have long served as a refuge for wildlife. There are more than 100 endangered species in Hawaii’s Haleakalā National Park alone. Bajo Madidi, in the Bolivian Amazon, is home to rare river otters that grow up to six feet long. And in Indonesia, some of the last Sumatran tigers on Earth prowl through the jungles of Gunung Leuser National Park.

But in the face of today’s climate crisis, we must expand our vision of protection even further. We need to start thinking about protected areas as refuges not just for wildlife, but for carbon.

This mental shift would be subtle but profound. It would mean protecting areas that we may not have previously identified as priorities. And, as my co-authors and I found in a new paper for Nature Climate Change, it is necessary if we want to solve the climate crisis.

In addition to a rapid transition towards renewable energy, protecting carbon-rich ecosystems is one of the most effective ways we can fight climate change. For hundreds and even thousands of years, these places have absorbed carbon from the atmosphere and stored it indefinitely within trees and soil. In the process, they have created a global system of living carbon reserves.


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