June 26, 2024 #ChileSustentable

The crucial role of Chile's forests in CO2 capture and climate change mitigation

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Chile's climate commitments with the international community recognize the fundamental role of our terrestrial and marine ecosystems". Maisa Rojas, Minister of the Environment.

The peatlands of Patagonia and the forests of Chiloé act as carbon "sinks", ecosystems that naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. This has been demonstrated by pioneering studies by Chilean researchers.

The Chilean territory has an important role to play in the climate crisis and the emission of greenhouse gases. Its soils and forests act as carbon "sinks", stored in different forms of organic compounds.

This was demonstrated by recent research led by the scientist of the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB) and the University of Chile, Jorge Pérez-Quezada, whose study concluded that the forests of Chiloé absorb about 18 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year, equivalent to the emissions of 3.4 cars in the same time.

Eddy covariance monitoring tower in Chiloé.

"The research, which was conducted in a forest near Ancud, concluded that for 10 years this forest has behaved as a carbon sink. This places it very close to other studies such as those in the Amazon, which have shown that tropical rainforests absorb 22.5 tons of CO₂ per hectare," explains scientist Jorge Pérez-Quezada. "This shows that forests are doing a job of mitigating climate change, because every ton of CO₂ that we manage to remove from the atmosphere helps us in that line," he adds.

The researcher reinforces the importance of conserving these territories, not only because of the great biodiversity they hold, but also because of their fundamental work in the accumulation of carbon in their trunks and in the soil, something that a few years ago was not believed to be possible in mature forests. "This study, which is pioneering in Chile but has been carried out in other parts of the world, has already demonstrated quite strongly that mature forests continue to accumulate carbon. Therefore, it is extremely important to be able to conserve them," he says.

The role of Patagonia

It is not only the Chiloé ecosystem that accumulates carbon. Patagonia is also a territory that captures CO₂ through peatlands. In fact, the IEB researcher assures that data is being collected in Puerto Williams based on Eddy covariance monitoring towers, which measure the exchange of carbon dioxide between ecosystems and the atmosphere.

Research published in May 2023, also led by Pérez-Quezada, revealed that Chilean Patagonia stores almost twice as much carbon as Amazon forests per hectare. It is estimated that in Chile there are 45,000 km2 of peatlands, types of wetlands that have a high capacity to absorb and filter water, and peat, which is dead pompom that retains carbon and methane. Magallanes alone has 66% of the country's peatlands.

"It is estimated that peatlands in Chile absorb the equivalent of 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions. They are a very important ally in the fight against climate change," says Frederic Thalasso, senior researcher at Cape Horn International Center (CHIC). Thalasso maintains that, according to estimates, in Chile there are four gigatons (4 billion tons) of carbon accumulated in peatlands. "If we neglect, if we drain, if we remove water from peatlands or if we exploit them commercially, this carbon would be converted relatively quickly to CO₂," he says.

In addition, Chile's peatlands capture 20 megatonnes (20 million tons) of CO₂ annually, or about 18% of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions.

The Minister of the Environment, Maisa Rojas, said that this research is key to the development of more effective policies and demonstrates the urgency of protecting our biosphere: "Chile's climate commitments to the international community recognize the fundamental role of our terrestrial and marine ecosystems, both for carbon sequestration and for adaptation to climate change . Studies such as this one allow us to better understand the role of our ecosystems in carbon capture and storage, and thus strengthen our greenhouse gas emissions inventories and develop more effective climate policies," he said.


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