Forest carbon explained

Forest carbon explained

If you’ve ever been confused about carbon sequestration and why it matters—we’ve got the (simple) answers to all your questions!

Trees are one of the best carbon capture technologies in the world—and they’ve been doing it for a long, long time. Read on to find out how this process works, and why it’s so important that we protect Australia’s forests for our future.

Above photo: Billy Rowe

Photo: Mount Field National Park, Tas by O. Alamany & E. Vicens

1. What is tree carbon or forest carbon?

Carbon is a basic building block of life on Earth—a chemical element that can exist as both a solid and a gas. But too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can trap heat, making our climate hotter. Enter: forests.

Trees absorb this greenhouse gas, which they need to survive—removing it from the atmosphere and storing it within them. ‘Tree carbon’ or ‘forest carbon’ refers to the amount of carbon dioxide that a tree or forest is holding onto.

Forests have the ability to store large amounts of carbon. When forests are destroyed, such as through deforestation or bushfires, the carbon that was stored in the trees is released back into the atmosphere.
Deforestation explained

Deforestation explained

Everything you need to know about Australia's deforestation crisis.

2. What does it mean for carbon to be “sequestered” by a forest or tree?

Carbon sequestration happens when carbon dioxide gas is removed from the atmosphere and stored—such as within trees.

3. Whereabouts in a forest is carbon stored?

Every part of a tree stores carbon—from their trunks, branches, stems, leaves and bark, all the way down to their roots. In a forest, some carbon eventually ends up in forest floor litter and in the soil.

Photo by Jim Wilson

4. How do trees absorb carbon? And why do trees need carbon?

Trees absorb carbon through photosynthesis. To do this, trees need three things: carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. Carbon dioxide enters the tree through tiny holes in its leaves, flowers, branches, stems, and roots, where it is transformed into glucose—a form of sugar that trees need to survive. The sugar gets broken down into energy that can be used by the tree for growth and repair.

5. What is a “carbon sink”?

You might have heard forests referred to as “one of the largest carbon sinks on the planet”. Technically a carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. Natural environments like oceans and forests are carbon sinks, as they continually absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unlike most other Australian states and territories, Queensland is a “carbon source” of land use emissions rather than a “carbon sink”—because of the scale of deforestation and land clearing taking place there.

Photo: Mountain Ash trees, Vic by Chris Taylor

6. What type of forest stores the most carbon in Australia?

All forests are vitally important for combating climate change, and all forests are experts at carbon storage!

According to Victoria’s Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, the mountain ash forests of Victoria’s Central Highlands contain the highest density of carbon in the world—storing about 1,867 tonnes of carbon per hectare, which is more than Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Other forests that are important carbon stores that the Wilderness Society is working to protect include: the ancient forests of Lutruwita / Tasmania, species-rich Wollemi in New South Wales, WA's Jarrah forests and Queensland's forests and bushland. These unique and precious areas are threatened by deforestation, logging and mining, which all increase carbon emissions.

7. What are the benefits of carbon sequestration by trees?

When forests absorb carbon from the atmosphere, they’re helping regulate the climate and reduce the effects of climate change—benefiting all life on earth. The longer a forest is alive, the more carbon it can sequester, which is why it’s important that we protect the forests we have now.

Photo: Jarrah forest, WA by Lewis Burnett

8. How can forests help fight climate change / greenhouse gas emissions?

The build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can trap heat and contribute to climate change. When forests are left intact or restored, they continue to absorb carbon dioxide and store it in their trees and soil, helping reduce the effects of climate change.

Not only do we need to reduce emissions, we also need to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. Protecting forests is a low-cost, effective and immediate way to take action on climate change.
Deforestation through the years

9. How can we protect and restore forests to enhance carbon sequestration?

According to The Tree Projects report, if native forest logging in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales ended today, we could prevent 212 million tonnes of carbon entering the atmosphere by 2050. That’s equivalent emissions savings to shutting down Australia’s dirtiest coal power plant for 22 years.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of Queensland’s forest and bushland is also destroyed every year by broadscale deforestation—mostly for the production of beef. Here are 5 ways you can help stop deforestation in its tracks today to protect nature and the climate.

10. What is Wilderness Society doing to protect native forests?

Photo by Paul Hilton

Right now, we’re: