Emissions from tropical rainforests damage underestimated

Friday 15 Nov 2019

Greenhouse gas emissions caused by damage to tropical rainforests around the world are being underestimated by a factor of six, according to a new study. Research led by the University of Queensland finds the climate impact of selective logging, outright clearing and fire in tropical rainforests between 2000 and 2013 was underestimated by 6.53bn tonnes of CO2.

The numbers are likely conservative, and also did not include emissions from other woodlands or the massive boreal forests in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Study co-author professor James Watson of the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society said: “We have been treating forests as pretty one-dimensional, but we know degradation impacts carbon. The bottom line is that we knew the numbers would be big, but we were shocked at just how big.”

Watson said the numbers used for tropical rainforests were “conservative”, adding, “this is a carbon time bomb and policymakers have to get to grips with this”. When countries declare greenhouse gas emissions from changes in forests, they do not account for the CO2 that forests would have continued to soak up for decades had they not been cleared or damaged. This is a measure known as “forgone removal”.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, also accounted for those emissions up to the year 2050 – a timeframe relevant to the global Paris climate change agreement. The study found 6.53bn tonnes of CO2 for foregone emissions and the impacts of other damage that wasn’t being counted.

In comparison, for the year to March 2019, Australia’s emissions are at 538.9m tonnes CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) – or 0.54bn tonnes of CO2e. Global emissions from burning coal in 2017 were 14.6bn tonnes of CO2.

“Frankly, inside the environment movement there has been a huge push to get a handle on coal-based emissions, and the role of transport and airplanes. That’s important, but the forgotten child has been forests and woodlands,” Watson said.

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Source: The Guardian

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