POV: deforestation: the hidden cause of global warming
May 15, 2007 07:24 PDT
| ||POV: deforestation: the hidden cause of global warming
The hidden cause of global warming
In the next 24 hours, deforestation will release as much CO2 into the
atmosphere as 8 million people flying from London to New York. Stopping the loggers
is the fastest and cheapest solution to climate change. So why are global
leaders turning a blind eye to this crisis?
By Daniel Howden
The accelerating destruction of the rainforests that form a precious cooling
band around the Earth's equator, is now being recognised as one of the main
causes of climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip
damage caused by planes and automobiles and factories.
The rampant slashing and burning of tropical forests is second only to the
energy sector as a source of greenhouses gases according to report published
today by the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading
Figures from the GCP, summarising the latest findings from the United Nati
ons, and building on estimates contained in the Stern Report, show deforestation
accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases,
while transport and industry account for 14 per cent each; and aviation makes up
only 3 per cent of the total.
"Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change,"
said Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP.
Scientists say one days' deforestation is equivalent to the carbon footprint
of eight million people flying to New York. Reducing those catastrophic
emissions can be achieved most quickly and most cheaply by halting the destruction
in Brazil, Indonesia, the Congo and elsewhere.
No new technology is needed, says the GCP, just the political will and a
system of enforcement and incentives that makes the trees worth more to
governments and individuals standing than felled. "The focus on technological fixes for
the emissions of rich nations while giving no incentive to poorer nations to
stop burning the standing forest means we are putting the cart before the
horse," said Mr Mitchell.
Most people think of forests only in terms of the CO2 they absorb. The
rainforests of the Amazon, the Congo basin and Indonesia are thought of as the
lungs of the planet. But the destruction of those forests will in the next four
years alone, in the words of Sir Nicholas Stern, pump more CO2 into the
atmosphere than every flight in the history of aviation to at least 2025.
Indonesia became the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world l
ast week. Following close behind is Brazil. Neither nation has heavy industry
on a comparable scale with the EU, India or Russia and yet they comfortably
outstrip all other countries, except the United States and China.
What both countries do have in common is tropical forest that is being cut
and burned with staggering swiftness. Smoke stacks visible from space climb
into the sky above both countries, while satellite images capture similar
destruction from the Congo basin, across the Democratic Republic of Congo, the
Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo.
According to the latest audited figures from 2003, two billion tons of CO2
enters the atmosphere every year from deforestation. That destruction amounts
to 50 million acres - or an area the size of England, Wales and Scotland felled
The remaining standing forest is calculated to contain 1,000 billion tons of
carbon, or double what is already in the atmosphere.
As the GCP's report concludes: "If we lose forests, we lose the fight
against climate change."
Standing forest was not included in the original Kyoto protocols and stands
outside the carbon markets that the report from the International Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) pointed to this month as the best hope for halting
The landmark Stern Report last year, and the influential McKinsey Report in
January agreed that forests offer the "single largest opportunity for
cost-effective and immediate reductions of carbon emissions".
International demand has driven intensive agriculture, logging and ranching
that has proved an inexorable force for deforestation; conservation has been
no match for commerce. The leading rainforest scientists are now calling for
the immediate inclusion of standing forests in internationally regulated carbon
markets that could provide cash incentives to halt this disastrous process.
Forestry experts and policy makers have been meeting in Bonn, Germany, this
week to try to put deforestation on top of the agenda for the UN climate
summit in Bali, Indonesia, this year. Papua New Guinea, among the world's poorest
nations, last year declared it would have no choice but to continue
deforestation unless it was given financial incentives to do otherwise.
Richer nations already recognise the value of uncultivated land. The EU
offers €200 (£135) per hectare subsidies for "environmental services" to its
farmers to leave their land unused.
And yet there is no agreement on placing a value on the vastly more valuable
land in developing countries. More than 50 per cent of the life on Earth is
in tropical forests, which cover less than 7 per cent of the planet's surface.
They generate the bulk of rainfall worldwide and act as a thermostat for the
Earth. Forests are also home to 1.6 billion of the world's poorest people who
rely on them for subsistence. However, forest experts say governments
continue to pursue science fiction solutions to the coming climate catastrophe,
preferring bio-fuel subsidies, carbon capture schemes and next-generation power
Putting a price on the carbon these vital forests contain is the only way to
slow their destruction. Hylton Philipson, a trustee of Rainforest Concern,
explained: "In a world where we are witnessing a mounting clash between food
security, energy security and environmental security - while there's money to be
made from food and energy and no income to be derived from the standing
forest, it's obvious that the forest will take the hit."
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
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