Goldstein, A., Turner, W.R., Spawn, S.A., et al., 2020. Protecting irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems. Nature Climate Change.

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Summary: The authors estimate the amount of irrecoverable carbon that will be emitted into the atmosphere if ecosystems with high carbon densities are logged or lost to development pressure. Irrecoverable carbon is the not recoverable on timescales relevant to avoiding dangerous climate impacts.

Key excerpts:

  • “These three dimensions allow us to identify ecosystems containing high amounts of ‘irrecoverable carbon’, which we define as carbon that (1) can be influenced by direct and local human action, (2) is vulnerable to loss during a land-use conversion and (3), if lost, could not be recovered within specified timeframe (t).”
  • “Based on estimated, conservative geographic extents (Table 1) and average irrecoverable carbon densities across ecosystems (Fig. 2), ecosystems with carbon that is manageable through direct, localized human actions contain at least 264 Gt C that would not be re-sequestered within 30 years if lost in the near-term.”
  • “Mechanisms for securing irrecoverable carbon at the national level might include new protected area designations, increased rights and resources to indigenous peoples, land-use planning that specifically incorporates irrecoverable carbon protection, ending or retiring concessions to agriculture, logging or aquaculture within areas of concentrated irrecoverable carbon, and designation of areas as critical biological carbon reserves deserving of a special protected status.”