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Climate Recovery and Adaptation potential of Forests in the Tropics (CRAFT).

International climate treaties recognise forests as an essential resource for mitigating global climate change through carbon capture and storage, but their role in helping humans adapt to rising global temperatures has not yet been assessed.

Our research in BAG has shown that replacing tropical forests with alternative land types disrupts regular water and energy exchanges between the land and the atmosphere, heating the land up to 100 km away and driving changes to the water cycle.

These changes exacerbate climate change-driven warming and droughts with severe consequences for human health and crop productivity. The presence of forest could alleviate the damaging effects of global climate change by cooling surrounding non-forest landscapes, reducing the frequency of heatwaves and sustaining inland water supplies. However, the potential for tropical forests to offer such ecosystem-based adaptation, and the dependence of climate services on forest type and degradation status, have not been evaluated. This evaluation is limited by the capability of climate models to capture the complexities of forest-climate interactions, and therefore their ability to reliably predict how tropical deforestation or afforestation may modify future temperature increases.

Could restoring tropical forests contribute to regional cooling and sustain inland water supplies?

CRAFT aims to deliver the first in-depth assessment of the local and regional climate benefits provided by intact and regenerating tropical forests. Analysis will combine, for the first time, the latest satellite and ground-based measurements, air-mass trajectory modelling and state-of-the-art numerical models to accurately quantify how tropical forests interact with climate at varying spatial scales. Results will lead to a step-change in how forests are valued, focus motivations for their preservation on local and national benefits and identify synergies between mitigation and adaptation policies.

CRAFT is a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship project led by Dr Jess Baker.