Africa’s tropical forests store huge amounts of carbon – much more than previously thought

Africa’s tropical forests located in the continent’s mountains are home to high amounts of carbon and scientists say that their previous assumptions regarding the forests’ capability of storing the carbon are incorrect as they found that the forests store higher levels of carbon then previously thought.

The international study reported today in Nature, found that intact tropical mountain (or montane) forests in Africa store around 150 tonnes of carbon per hectare. This means that keeping a hectare of forest standing saves CO2 emissions equivalent to powering 100 homes with electricity for one year.

The study found that African mountain forests store more carbon per unit area than the Amazon rainforest and are similar in structure to lowland forests in Africa. Existing guidelines for African mountain forests – which assume 89 tonnes of carbon per hectare – greatly underestimate their role in global climate regulation.

The international 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.

Scientists measured 72,000 trees in 44 mountain sites in 12 African countries, from Guinea to Ethiopia, and south to Mozambique. In each mountain site they established plots where they recorded the diameter, height and species of every tree.

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.

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