Potential for low-cost carbon removal through tropical reforestation

Potential for low-cost carbon removal through tropical reforestation


The UNFCCC COP21 (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties) created the Paris Agreement in 2015, which pledges to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably 1.5 °C.” For this to happen, we must both reduce how much carbon dioxide (CO2) that is released and find ways to capture CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. This study explores two ways this might happen using Nature-based Solutions: tree planting in the form of reforestation and afforestation, and the prevention of deforestation. 

research goals & methods

This study evaluates the cost-effectiveness of tropical reforestation and avoided deforestation. Researchers used data from 90 tropical countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia to create a data analysis model. Researchers then used this model to look at different abatement incentive levels, the amount of money that someone would theoretically be paid to reforest or avoid deforestation on a hectare of land. From this, they were able to conclude the most effective abatement strategies for different regions.

conclusions & takeaways

Researchers concluded that reforestation and avoided deforestation were both relatively cost-effective methods for carbon capture (atmospheric CO2 removal).  Overall, avoided deforestation was found to be the most effective low-cost abatement strategy. However, it is worth noting that there is more nuance in the country- and region-specific results. In some countries, reforestation was actually predicted to be a more effective abatement strategy. The results of this study should help environmental managers in the tropics to make effective restoration and carbon abatement plans.


Busch, J., Engelmann, J., Cook-Patton, S.C. et al. 2019. “Potential for low-cost carbon dioxide removal through tropical reforestation.” Nat. Clim. Chang. 9: 463–466. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0485-x.


  • Earth Innovation Institute, San Francisco, CA, USA
  • Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
  • The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA, USA