Assessing the carbon capture potential of reforestation project

David Lefebvre* (Corresponding Author), Adrian G. Williams, Guy J.D. Kirk, Paul J. Burgess, Jeroen Meersmans, Miles R. Silman, Francisco Román-Dañobeytia, Jhon Farfan, Pete Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The number of reforestation projects worldwide is increasing. In many cases funding is obtained through the claimed carbon capture of the trees, presented as immediate and durable, whereas reforested plots need time and maintenance to realise their carbon capture potential. Further, claims usually overlook the environmental costs of natural or anthropogenic disturbances during the forest’s lifetime, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the reforestation are not allowed for. This study uses life cycle assessment to quantify the carbon footprint of setting up a reforestation plot in the Peruvian Amazon. In parallel, we combine a soil carbon model with an above- and below-ground plant carbon model to predict the increase in carbon stocks after planting. We compare our results with the carbon capture claims made by a reforestation platform. Our results show major errors in carbon accounting in reforestation projects if they (1) ignore the time needed for trees to reach their carbon capture potential; (2) ignore the GHG emissions involved in setting up a plot; (3) report the carbon capture potential per tree planted, thereby ignoring limitations at the forest ecosystem level; or (4) under-estimate tree losses due to inevitable human and climatic disturbances. Further, we show that applications of biochar during reforestation can partially compensate for project emissions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19907
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date7 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

We acknowledge funding through the UP-Green-LCA (NE/P019668/1) and Soils-R-GGREAT
(NE/P019498/1) projects of the greenhouse gas removal (GGR) programme. The GGR programme is financed by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), Economic and Social Science
Research Council (ESRC) and the UK department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). We thank CINCIA and its funders (USAID and WWF) for their help and support during this project

Data Availability Statement

Data Availability
All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article (and its Supplementary
Information files).

Supplementary Information
Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary material available at


  • Climate-change mitigation
  • Environmental impact


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