African tropical mountain forests store more carbon than Amazon forest

African tropical mountain forests have been found to store more carbon per unit area than the Amazon forest. The forests have been found to store around 150 tonnes of carbon per hectare. This is more than previously thought by scientists.

The international study has been reported today in Nature journal. It concluded that keeping a hectare of African tropical mountain forests standing saves CO2 emissions equivalent to powering 100 homes with electricity for one year. The study was however critical on how fast some of the forests have been cleared.

The existing guidelines for African mountain forests assume 89 tonnes of carbon per hectare. These figures greatly underestimate their role in global climate management. 

The international team also studied how much of the African tropical mountain forests had been lost in the past 20 years. They found that 0.8 million hectares have been lost, notably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia, emitting over 450 million tonnes of CO22 into the atmosphere. 

They argued that if the current rate of deforestation continues, a further 0.5 million hectares would be lost by 2030.

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The lead author Dr. Aida Cuni-Sanchez, from the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography and at Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 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.”

The researchers 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. 

They said that better knowledge on how much carbon mountain forests store is important for the ten African nations where the only tropical forests available are found on the mountains.

Dr. Phil Platts, from York’s Department of Environment and Geography and the IUCN’s Climate Change Specialist Group, said: “About five percent of Africa’s tropical mountain forests have been cleared since 2000, and in some countries, the rate exceeds 20 percent. 

Besides their climate regulation, the forests are habitats for many rare and endangered species, and they provide water services to people downstream”.  

Dr. Martin Sullivan, at the Department of Natural Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University also added that “Previous carbon estimates for tropical mountain forests in Africa were much lower than the values we report in our study. 

“We hope that these new data will encourage carbon finance mechanisms towards avoided deforestation in tropical mountains. As outlined in the Paris Agreement, reducing tropical deforestation in both lowland and mountain forests must be a priority.” 

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