Deforestation is overrated as environmental threat, study finds

Deforestation's contribution to climate change is vastly overestimated, a new study concludes.

The study led by researchers at Ohio State University and Yale University states that deforestation for timber and farmland is responsible for about 92 billion tons of carbon emissions into the environment since 1900.

"Our estimate is about a fifth of what was found in previous work showing that deforestation has contributed 484 billion tons of carbon - a third of all manmade emissions - since 1900," said Brent Sohngen, a professor of environmental and resource economics at Ohio State, in a statement.

The professor said that widely accepted estimate didn’t take into account the planting of new trees and other forest management techniques that lower the environmental burden.

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Aerial view showing smoke billowing from a patch of forest being cleared with fire in the surroundings of Boca do Acre, a city in Amazonas State, in the Amazon basin in northwestern Brazil, on Aug. 24. (LULA SAMPAIO/AFP via Getty Images)

Aerial view showing smoke billowing from a patch of forest being cleared with fire in the surroundings of Boca do Acre, a city in Amazonas State, in the Amazon basin in northwestern Brazil, on Aug. 24. (LULA SAMPAIO/AFP via Getty Images)

The model used in the new study did take those factors into account.

“There was a significant shift toward treating forests as a renewable, rather than nonrenewable, resource in the last century, and we estimate that those reforestation and forest management efforts have led to a far smaller carbon burden on the environment,” Sohngen said.

The study suggests that efforts to decrease carbon emissions should focus on industry.

Sohngen also pointed out that environmental protection work should not ignore forests, suggesting that governments globally could provide more incentives to promote better forest management.

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“Forestry and land use are blamed for being an enormous source of climate change, but they’re not an enormous source. The energy sector is an enormous source, and that’s where we should focus our attention – that and looking for ways to maximize our forests’ role in protecting the environment,” Sohngen said.

The study was published on Monday in the Journal of Forest Economics.