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What is Irrecoverable Carbon?

  May 10, 2023

What is Irrecoverable Carbon?

Q What is the context ?

A Researchers have identified and mapped 139 gigatonnes (Gt) of “irrecoverable carbon” in some of the world’s major forests and peatlands including the Amazon and the Congo  to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Q What is Irrecoverable Carbon?

  • The concept of ‘irrecoverable carbon’ was introduced in 2020.
  • All kinds of ecosystems  lush rainforest, muddy peatland, shady mangroves  contain eons of stored carbon, captured by photosynthesis.
  • Per square kilometer, the forests are among the most effective carbon stores in the world; but they’re also some of the most difficult to restore.
  • If destroyed, these ecosystems could take decades or centuries to regenerate.
  • In other words, the 139 gigatons of carbon contained in these areas are effectively irrecoverable if released due to anthropogenic activities.
  • Once released in air, it can be recovered but would take centuries to fully recover or naturally reintegrate.

Q What is the new research?

  • In the new study, researchers have identified and mapped carbon reserves that are “manageable, are vulnerable to disturbance” and cannot be recovered by 2050.
  • They held study of peatlands of the Congo Basin and Northern Europe; and in North America, the mangrove swamps of the Everglades and old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.
  • 2050 has been set as the deadline for taking global carbon emissions to net zero in order for Earth to avoid warming at 1.5-2 degrees celsius above the pre-industrial levels.
  • To mitigate such a warming scenario, it is imperative to conserve the ecosystems with 139 Gt carbon.

Q What are the key findings ?

  • Amazon is the biggest carbon sink on earth, holding 31.5 Gt irrecoverable carbon.
  • Brazil has the second-largest irrecoverable carbon reserves, after Russia that holds 23 per cent of the total irrecoverable carbon outlay in the world.
  • The second-largest reserve of carbon, at 132 Gt, comprise the islands of Southeast Asia, with their equatorial rainforests.
  • The Congo basin is the third-largest hotspot of irrecoverable carbon with over 8 Gt of carbon reserves, according to the study.
  • Australia, which has become a hotspot for wildfires, is home to 2.5 per cent of the world’s carbon reserve along its coastal mangroves and forests in the southeast and southwest.

Q Why conserve these forests?

  • These regions are already being ravaged by wildfires and exploited for resources by mining and oil industries.
  • Since 2010, agriculture, logging and wildfire have caused emissions of at least 4 Gt of irrecoverable carbon.