LEEDS, England, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Trees absorb nearly one-fifth of humanity's climate-change emissions, a 40-year British university study finds.
The University of Leeds study is being hailed by environmentalists as the most compelling evidence yet supporting an end to the logging or burning of trees in forested areas.
Previous studies on the value of the rainforests had concentrated on South America and Asia. But the Leeds research included tropical forests in Africa and found trees absorb 4.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, or 18 percent of the greenhouse gas added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels.
"We are receiving a free subsidy from nature," with trees "substantially buffering the rate of climate change," said study author and Leeds geography Professor Simon Lewis, a research fellow at the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge.
But if carbon emissions continue to increase, forests will die or even burn out, causing a "feedback" effect that will accelerate climate change, Lewis told The Daily Telegraph.
Greenpeace UK forest campaigner David Ritter said the study showed "the case for forest protection has never been stronger, but we must not allow our politicians to use this as an excuse to avoid sweeping emissions cuts."
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates human activity creates 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year with 15 billion tons staying in the atmosphere and adding to climate change.
The Leeds research shows where some of the remaining 17 billion tons each year is going, the researchers said.