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African forests store more CO2 than the Amazon

Tropical mountain forests in Africa store more carbon than the Amazon rainforest, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of York. 

The scientists measured 72,000 trees in 44 mountain sites in 12 African countries, from Guinea to Ethiopia, and south to Mozambique. 

They found that African mountain forests store more carbon per unit area than the amazon rainforest.

This means that keeping a hectare of forest standing saves CO2 emissions equivalent to powering 100 homes with electricity for one year. 

The team also investigated how much tropical mountain forest had been lost from the African continent in the past 20 years.

They found that 0.8 million hectares have been lost, mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia, emitting over 450 million tonnes of CO22 into the atmosphere. If current deforestation rates continue, a further 0.5 million hectares of these forests would be lost by 2030.

pine trees field near mountain under sunset

Lead author Dr Aida Cuni-Sanchez, said: ‘The results are surprising because the climate in mountains would be expected to lead to low carbon forests.

‘The lower temperatures of mountains and the long periods they are covered by clouds should slow tree growth, while strong winds and steep unstable slopes might limit how big trees can get before they fall over and die.

‘But unlike other continents, in Africa, we found the same carbon store per unit area in lowland and mountain forests. Contrary to what we expected, large trees remain abundant in mountain forests, and these large trees (defined as having diameters over 70 cm) store a lot of carbon.’

Researchers said that better knowledge about how much carbon mountain forests store is especially important for the ten African nations where the only tropical forests they have are those found on mountains.

Co-author Dr Phil Platts, from York’s Department of Environment and Geography and the IUCN’s Climate Change Specialist Group, added: ‘About 5% of Africa’s tropical mountain forests have been cleared since 2000, and in some countries the rate exceeds 20 per cent. Besides their importance for climate regulation, these forests are habitats for many rare and endangered species, and they provide very important water services to millions of people downstream’

Photo by Sergei Akulich

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