Potential of intact forests in mitigating climate risks undermined: Report

While deforestation alone accounted for 3.2% of gross carbon emissions, selective logging, edge effects, and wildlife loss spiked carbon accounting by a factor of more than six

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 31 October 2019
intact forests in mitigating climate risks undermined Photo: Getty Images

Intact tropical forests are a great source of carbon sink. But increasing deforestation and failure to conserve these forests means that carbon dioxide emissions from human activities would pile up in the atmosphere significantly faster than it does at present. 

Intact forests have significant potential for mitigating climate risks, but are currently neglected in international climate policy and the impact of carbon due to their loss is grossly underreported, according to a new study.

While deforestation alone accounted for 3.2 per cent of gross carbon emissions, selective logging, edge effects, and wildlife loss spiked carbon accounting by a factor of more than six, the researchers said  

The impact of carbon due to large-scale destruction of intact tropical forest between 2000 and 2013 was 626 per cent higher than previously thought, showed the study published in the journal Science Advances. 

This is equivalent to nearly two years of global land-use change emissions, it noted.

“Our results revealed that continued destruction of intact tropical forests is a ticking time bomb for carbon emissions. There is an urgent need to safeguard these landscapes because they play an indispensable role in stabilising the climate,” said lead author Sean Maxwell of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Queensland.

Of the total tropical forests, only 20 per cent can be considered “intact”. These stores some 40 per cent of the above-ground carbon found in all tropical forests. Only 549 million acres of intact tropical forests are left in the world, showed to 2013 estimates.

The study also found that most countries fail to preserve intact tropical forests as a means of meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement. Schemes that are designed to avoid land-use and land cover change emissions rarely attracts funds.

“Agricultural expansion, logging, infrastructure and fires reduced the global extent of intact forests by 7.2 per cent between 2000 and 2013 alone, yet the eventual carbon emissions locked in by these losses have not been comprehensively estimated.” said Tom Evans, a co-author of the study from WCS. 

At least 35 per cent of the intact forests studied are home to, and protected by, indigenous peoples. Intact forests also provide exceptional levels of many other environmental services — for example they protect watersheds much better than degraded forests, return moisture to the air that falls in distant regions as rain, and help to keep vast numbers of species safe from extinction.

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