As It Happens

New study finds natural forests are rebounding around the world, but can't outpace deforestation

New research on global forest restoration is promising - but comes with a big caveat.

About 59 million hectares of forest have regrown worldwide since 2000, says William Baldwin-Cantello

According to new research, Canada's hotspots for forest regeneration are in the country's northwest and in Quebec. (Global Warming Images/WWF)

Story Transcript

There's a seed of hope coming from a new study on forest restoration. 

Despite global deforestation continuing at a breakneck pace, the past 20 years have seen substantial forest regrowth as well. 

"We're seeing it in almost every corner of the world," William Baldwin-Cantello, director of nature-based solutions at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the leader of the study, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"The Atlantic Forest in southeast Brazil, in the northern area of Mongolia, in West Africa, Eastern Europe, Thailand, and, of course, in Canada as well." 

The Atlantic Forest in Brazil is considered a global success story for forest regrowth. This photo shows a section that was cut down to make way for cattle farming. (Merijn van Leeuwen/ WWF-Netherlands)

Baldwin-Cantello says that since 2000, some 59 million hectares of forest have regrown worldwide. 

That's an area larger than mainland France, with the potential to capture the equivalent of 5.9 gigatons of CO2 — more than the annual emissions of the United States. 

The research was published this week by Trillion Trees, a collaboration between the WWF, BirdLife International and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

It comes with the release of a map of forest regeneration hot spots, allowing users around the world to see where trees are returning the fastest. 

These are not human-created plantations of trees, Baldwin-Cantello clarifies, but diverse natural forests, which are "able to support more wildlife and ... support more carbon storage in the long term."

The team behind the study is hoping world governments take note of that as they look to expand forest in their countries, incorporating more natural forest into their plans.

In Canada, the Liberal government promised in 2019 to plant 2 billion trees as part of a decade-long effort aimed at managing, conserving and restoring the country's forests, grasslands and wetlands. The project is set to get underway this spring. 

Though the forest regrowth of the past two decades is a "great story to tell," Baldwin-Cantello says it comes with a pressing caveat: over those same 20 years, the world lost far more forest than it gained. 

A report released in 2020 claimed U.S. toilet paper production has been driving the destruction of Canada's boreal forest. (Matt Medler/International Boreal Conservation Campaign via Associated Press)

"The U.N. estimates conservatively that we lose about 10 million hectares of forest every year.... So you can immediately see the kind of scale of difference," said Baldwin-Cantello. 

Deforestation, he says, contributes about 10 per cent of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

As the world looks ahead to rapidly warming decades, Baldwin-Cantello says, forest expansion will play a "massive role" in controlling carbon.

"We're going to need to take the success, expand it to other places and really support the regrowth of forests and other ecosystems," he concluded.

Written by Kate McGillivray. Interview produced by John McGill. 


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