Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Carbon sinks only a short-term fix

Shares
Terrestrial carbon sinks — forests and farmland that take up more carbon dioxide than they give out — do not provide a long-term solution to climate change because their ability to absorb carbon dioxide changes with time, according to an international group of 30 researchers.

The findings — published in the scientific journal Nature — could have implications for ministers meeting for international climate change talks, where the importance of carbon sinks and ‘emissions trading’ are still major points of controversy.

Land and ocean sinks currently absorb about half of the carbon dioxide created by burning fossil fuels, and at present this uptake is limiting the impact of carbon emissions from human activity on climate change.

But the land sink is not a constant phenomenon, the researchers warn, and its effect in the future is uncertain. In the 1980s, for example, the world’s land mass had a neutral effect — absorbing roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide that it gave out — but in the 1990s it became a net carbon sink.

These variations are largely the result of changes in land use, such as fire prevention and regrowth on abandoned agricultural land, as well as environmental changes, such as longer growing seasons, and fertilisation by carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

The net land sink might disappear altogether in the future, the researchers say, when these processes reach saturation and cease to take effect.

Reference: Nature 414, 169 (2001)

Link to Nature article
Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.