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Are young trees or old forests more important for slowing climate change?

Credit: Jeremy Kieran/Unsplash, CC BY-SA Forests are thought to be crucial in the fight against climate change—and with good reason. We’ve known for a long time that the extra CO₂ humans are putting in the atmosphere makes trees grow faster , taking a large portion of that CO₂ back out of the atmosphere and storing it in wood and soils.

But a recent finding that the world’s forests are on average getting ” shorter and younger ” could imply that the opposite is happening. Adding further confusion, another study recently found that young forests take up more CO₂ globally than older forests , perhaps suggesting that new trees planted today could offset our carbon sins more effectively than ancient woodland.

How does a world in which forests are getting younger and shorter fit with one where they are also growing faster and taking up more CO₂? Are old or young forests more important for slowing climate change ? We can answer these questions by thinking about the lifecycle of forest patches, the proportion of them of different ages and how they all respond to a changing environment.

The forest carbon budget

Let’s start by imagining the world […]

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