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

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 before humans began clearing forests and burning fossil […]

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