Forests are absorbing almost 40 per cent of the 38 billion tons of carbon dioxide created by mankind every year.
Researchers at the University of Leeds found forests absorb nearly 40 per cent of man made fossil fuel emissions every year.
The first study to look at all the world’s forests together found that established forests, from boreal forests in the north to tropical rainforests in the south, absorb 8.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.
Scientists work out how much carbon is being absorbed by measuring the density of wood, height and width of different tree species over time.
A further 6 billion tons is “mopped up” by newly planted forests around the world.
However 10.8 billion tonnes is released as a consequence of deforestation as trees are chopped down and a further 28 billon tonnes is generated by cars, factories and other sources of fossil fuels.
The study showed that forests are absorbing almost 40 per cent of the 38 billion tons of carbon dioxide created by mankind every year.
Dr Simon Lewis, a tropical ecologist from the University of Leeds and co-author of the study, said trees are much more important to tacking climate change than previously thought.
He pointed out that halting deforestation and planting more trees could make a huge different.
“Humans are altering the world’s forests in a number of ways, from their outright destruction to the much more subtle impacts on even the most remote forests caused by global changes to the environment.
“Our research shows these changes are having globally important impacts, which highlights the critical role forests play in the global cycling of carbon and therefore the speed and severity of future climate change.
“The practical importance of this new information is that if schemes to reduce deforestation are successful they would have significant positive global impacts, as would similar efforts promoting forest restoration.”