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Article

Thomas Rudel

Forest transitions take place when trends over time in forest cover shift from deforestation to reforestation. These transitions are of immense interest to researchers because the shift from deforestation to reforestation brings with it a range of environmental benefits. The most important of these would be an increased volume of sequestered carbon, which if large enough would slow climate change. This anticipated atmospheric effect makes the circumstances surrounding forest transitions of immediate interest to policymakers in the climate change era. This encyclopedia entry outlines these circumstances. It begins by describing the socio-ecological foundations of the first forest transitions in western Europe. Then it discusses the evolution of the idea of a forest transition, from its introduction in 1990 to its latest iteration in 2019. This discussion describes the proliferation of different paths through the forest transition. The focus then shifts to a discussion of the primary driver of the 20th-century forest transitions, economic development, in its urbanizing, industrializing, and globalizing forms. The ecological dimension of the forest transition becomes the next focus of the discussion. It describes the worldwide redistribution of forests toward more upland settings. Climate change since 2000, with its more extreme ecological events in the form of storms and droughts, has obscured some ongoing forest transitions. The final segment of this entry focuses on the role of the state in forest transitions. States have become more proactive in managing forest transitions. This tendency became more marked after 2010 as governments have searched for ways to reduce carbon emissions or to offset emissions through more carbon sequestration. The forest transitions by promoting forest expansion would contribute additional carbon offsets to a nation’s carbon budget. For this reason, the era of climate change could also see an expansion in the number of promoted forest transitions.