Global Carbon

Global Carbon Dioxide BudgetGlobal warming is driven by the increase in concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due primarily to fossil fuel combustion. Changes in land use, such as deforestation for agriculture, represent a smaller fraction, roughly 15%, of CO2 emissions each year.

The global carbon cycle describes the exchanges of carbon between the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and fossil fuels. WHRC scientists have been calculating the land portion of the global carbon budget for decades — identifying where and how much carbon is stored on land around the globe, and where and how much carbon is being emitted to or taken out of the atmosphere. Using the same approach, WHRC scientists have also begun to identify those lands where management could remove carbon from the atmosphere.

deforestation2Deforestation and forest degradation account for roughly 15% of global CO2 emissions, but forest management could provide up to 50% of the solution to stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations and, by extension, the global climate. Carbon-smart land management strategies could temporarily absorb up to half of global CO2 emissions during the few decades required to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy (solar, wind, water). WHRC works to identify locations around the globe for carbon-smart conservation and reforestation opportunities.

Forests: The Bridge to a Fossil-Free Future (pdf)

Global Carbon Cycle (pdf)

GCP-logoEach year, WHRC determines the land-use emissions for the annual update of the Global Carbon Project which documents global changes in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Using forests to help stabilize CO2 concentrations has been discussed for many years, but recent WHRC research has translated the capacity of forest management to bridge the decades of fossil fuel transition.

Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions to Reach Record High in 2014

Land Management Choices Affect Climate

New data suggest human forest management may have more of an impact on carbon storage than previously understood

WHRC scientists have contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports and shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their role in that report. WHRC scientists continue to be contributors including to the most recent Fifth Assessment Report. A simplified version of the WHRC “bookkeeping approach” is used in the IPCC Guidelines to calculate carbon emissions from land-use change. WHRC experts have been cited in diverse publications including the NY Times, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and are called upon by governments, conservation organizations and international NGO’s including HRH Prince of Wales International Sustainability Unit (ISU) (see press release).

WHRC has an internship program designed to inspire and educate the next generation of carbon scientists. Visit the Careers & Internships page.

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