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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Protecting climate with forests.

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Policies for climate mitigation on land rarely acknowledge biophysical factors, such as reflectivity, evaporation, and surface roughness. Yet such factors can alter temperatures much more than carbon sequestration does, and often in a conflicting way. We outline a framework for examining biophysical factors in mitigation policies and provide some best-practice recommendations based on that framework. Tropical projects—avoided deforestation, forest restoration, and afforestation—provide the greatest climate value, because carbon storage and biophysics align to cool the Earth. In contrast, the climate benefits of carbon storage are often counteracted in boreal and other snow-covered regions, where darker trees trap more heat than snow does. Managers can increase the climate benefit of some forest projects by using more reflective and deciduous species and through urban forestry projects that reduce energy use. Ignoring biophysical interactions could result in millions of dollars being invested in some mitigation projects that provide little climate benefit or, worse, are counter-productive.

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