Deforestation and climate change

Rain forest burning

Burning forests to clear land for agriculture releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases

As our understanding of the role forests play in stabilising global climate increases, it is becoming clear that their destruction is only exacerbating climate change. If we’re serious about tackling this, then preserving our remaining ancient forests has to be a priority.

Carbon storehouses

Mature forests store enormous quantities of carbon, both in the trees and vegetation itself and within the soil in the form of decaying plant matter. Forests in areas such as the Congo and the Amazon represent some of the world’s largest carbon stores on land.

But when forests are logged or burnt, that carbon is released into the atmosphere, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and accelerating the rate of climate change. So much carbon is released that they contribute up to one-fifth of global man-made emissions, more than the world’s entire transport sector.

Deforestation has such a massive effect on climate change that Indonesia and Brazil are now the third and fourth largest emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet. This dubious honour comes not from industrial or transport emissions, but from deforestation – up to 75 per cent of Brazil’s emissions come solely from deforestation – with the majority coming from clearing and burning areas of the Amazon rainforest.

Stern words

The link between forests and climate change is now widely accepted. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, commissioned by the UK government and released in October 2006, was in no doubt about the impact forests have on our climate. “Action to preserve the remaining areas of natural forest is needed urgently,” it said, and called for “large scale pilot schemes… to explore effective approaches to combining national action and international support”.

The report also noted that preventing deforestation would be a relatively cheap method of tackling climate change, allowing forested countries to reduce their emissions by enormous amounts. These countries – such as Indonesia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo – should lead the way in developing policies to protect and manage their forests, but they also need help from other nations. Preserving forest areas benefits the entire planet and there is now a growing acceptance among the international community for financial incentives to leave forests standing. If that were to happen, forests could be worth more intact than if they were felled for timber or agriculture.

Climate change is the biggest problem facing our planet, and preserving our remaining forests is a key part of the solution. You can be a part of that solution too – find out what you can do to help save the remaining forests and stop climate change.