It looks like rainforests have an even more crucial role to play in combating climate change than was previously thought. Research published in Global Change Biology and supported by the Natural Environment Research Council reveals how reducing deforestation in the tropics would slash the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by as much as 20%.
The study is the first to work out the amount of carbon absorbed by the planet’s tropical rainforests as well as calculating the amount of greenhouse gas emitted when trees are lost because of human activity.
Impressive natural rainforest CO2 absorption capabilities negated by human activities
Apparently tropical forests absorb almost two billion tonnes of carbon every year, a whopping one fifth of the planet’s carbon emissions. The trees store CO2 in their bark, leaves and the surrounding soil.
Sadly the amount absorbed is roughly the same as the amount expelled into the atmosphere through illegal and legal logging, insensitive land clearance, grazing for animals and biofuel crops like palm oil, soya and sugar. Add peat fires in the forests and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions skyrockets.
CO2 emissions from tropical forests increase as the climate heats up
The study highlights what would happen if all the human-related deforestation was stopped: left alone, the forests could easily absorb a great deal more carbon than they do now. Carbon emissions from tropical forests are set to increase as the climate heats up, since higher temperatures accelerate the decay of dead plants and trees, which give off more CO2. The planet’s temperature is predicted to increase by two degrees by 2099, a rise that’s expected to lead to a three quarter of a billion tonne increase in yearly emissions.
Thinking ahead long term is a rare thing for politicians
2099 seems like a long way away, and politicians rarely take a long term view. But unless we start acting now, there’s no reason to believe we’ll have much rainforest left by then… if any. The more damage we do and the less we do to stop it, the worse the picture.