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Prioritizing forestation based on biogeochemical and local biogeophysical impacts


Reforestation and afforestation is expected to achieve a quarter of all emission reduction pledged under the Paris Agreement. Trees store carbon in biomass and soil but also alter the surface energy balance, warming or cooling the local climate. Mitigation scenarios and policies often neglect these biogeophysical (BGP) effects. Here we combine observational BGP datasets with carbon uptake or emission data to assess the end-of-century mitigation potential of forestation. Forestation and conservation of tropical forests achieve the highest climate benefit at 732.12 tCO2e ha–1. Higher-latitude forests warm the local winter climate, affecting 73.7% of temperate forests. Almost a third (29.8%) of forests above 56° N induce net winter warming if only their biomass is considered. Including soil carbon reduces the net warming area to 6.8% but comes with high uncertainty (2.9–42.0%). Our findings emphasize the necessity to conserve and re-establish tropical forests and consider BGP effects in policy scenarios.

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Fig. 1: Combined BGP and BGC mitigation potential of forestation and forest conservation.
Fig. 2: Latitudinal dependence of the climate impact of forestation and forest conservation.
Fig. 3: Seasonality of the BGP impact of forestation and forest conservation.
Fig. 4: Dominance of standing forests in areas of high mitigation potential.

Data availability

The data on the combined BGC and BGP impact of forestation and forest conservation, as well as the BGP impact on its own, are available on Zenodo (

Code availability

The Geospatial Data Abstraction Library v.2.4.1 and QGIS 2.18 were used with Python 3.6.5 to process and assess the described datasets. The code is available on Zenodo ( and GitHub (


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We thank T. Crowther for valuable discussions during the conception of this study and J. Schwaab for technical assistance and guidance. This research received funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) via the LAMACLIMA projectas part of AXIS, an ERANET initiated by JPI Climate (, last access: 09 September 2021, grant no. 01LS1905A),with co-funding from the European Union (grant no. 776608).

Author information




E.L.D. and S.I.S. conceived the study, which was then further developed by M.G.W. M.G.W. performed the analysis and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors together interpreted the results and edited the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Michael G. Windisch or Edouard L. Davin.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Lucia Perugini and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Combined impact of BGP and BGC effects of forestation and forest conservation on annual climate based on a conversion of the BGP effect to a CO2 equivalent metric using the global instead of the local TCRE.

Climate impact of forestation a) of current grass-, shrub-, and cropland by a neighbouring forest and avoided deforestation of standing forests b) measured by the sum of their CO2 uptake (or avoided loss) and the CO2 equivalent of the local BGP effect induced. The CO2 equivalent of the local BGP warming or cooling response is produced by the global TCRE value in opposition to the local TCRE response used in the main manuscript. Base map adapted from GSHHG32 and GMT33.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Seasonality of the BGP impact of forestation and forest conservation based on a conversion of the BGP effect to a CO2 equivalent metric using the global instead of the local TCRE.

Fraction of the BGP impact of forestation (reforestation and afforestation) (left) and avoided deforestation (right) expressed as CO2 equivalent compared to the effect of their CO2 uptake or avoided loss in percent. The CO2 equivalent of the local BGP warming or cooling response is produced by the global mean TCRE instead of the local TCRE used in the main manuscript. Fractions are reported for the annual average response of forestation (a) and conservation (b), and the boreal winter response to forestation (c) and conservation (e), as well as the boreal summer response to forestation (d) and conservation (f). Brown colours depict areas where BGP effects oppose the BGC impact, turquoise colours are assigned to areas where the cooling effect of the carbon uptake is locally enhanced by BGP processes. Base map adapted from GSHHG32 and GMT33.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2 and Table 1.

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Windisch, M.G., Davin, E.L. & Seneviratne, S.I. Prioritizing forestation based on biogeochemical and local biogeophysical impacts. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 867–871 (2021).

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