Forests 'powerhouses' for fighting climate change: Experts

Most powerful, cost-effective technology for carbon capturing at global scale is actually forests themselves, says environmentalist

Burak Bir   | 21.03.2020
Forests 'powerhouses' for fighting climate change: Experts


In the face of the threats challenging the earth, forests play a key role in providing habitats for 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and combating climate change, according to environmental experts.

"Forests are ecological powerhouses. Not only do they stabilize global climate patterns, but they also support healthy micro-climates and limit the earth’s reflectivity. This, in turn, regulates ocean currents, wind patterns, and rainfall," Henriette Walz, of Global Theme Lead Deforestation at the environmental group Rainforest Alliance, told Anadolu Agency.

Speaking to mark March 21, International Day of Forests, this year celebrated with the theme of forests and biodiversity, she said forests are essential for maintaining the balance of several efficient, interdependent ecosystems and also provide livelihoods for approximately 1.6 billion people.

Tropical forests, for example, she said, are responsible for about 50% of the carbon absorbed by the land.

Governments are working to cut fossil fuel use or use technology to capture carbon, but the most powerful and cost-effective technology for capturing carbon in the world are the forests themselves, Walz stressed.

"Natural climate solutions such as conservation and restoration of forests, along with improvements in land management, can help us achieve 37% of our climate target of limiting warming to a maximum of 2 C above preindustrial levels."

She also underscored the carbon sequestering and storage capabilities of forests in combatting climate change.

A tree can store an average of about 48 pounds of CO2 in one year, she said. "Recent research shows intact forests can store the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emissions of entire countries such as Peru and Colombia."

Decrying the grim picture of deforestation, she said around 200 million hectares (494 million acres) were lost globally between 2010 and 2018, citing Global Forest Watch figures.

Some 105 million hectares (nearly 260 million acres) of that were in tropical areas, and around 33 million hectares (81.5 million acres) were of tropical primary forest.

Global deforestation rates have remained high in recent years, despite many efforts to end it, she lamented.

Calling for “urgent action” to protect forests from further threats, Walz praised progress in deforestation, saying 473 companies made 797 no-deforestation commitments and 109 countries included forests in their nationally determined contributions to the Paris climate accord.

She also highlighted the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

"However, in many other cases, the importance of protecting and restoring our forests is still overlooked by governments and industry," she said, urging policy-makers and business leaders to follow "sustainable management of standing forests."

New technologies and advances in machine learning are expected to be effective ways to protect forests, as they ensure accessible monitoring of forests and deforestation, Walz said.

The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit working at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests. The group aims to create a better future for people and nature by making responsible business the new normal.

Lifestyle impact on forests

"Not enough people in the developed world have a sense of how our current lifestyle and consumption patterns are impacting critical primary forests and other natural forests around the globe," Tyson Miller, forests programs director at California-based environmental group Stand.earth, told Anadolu Agency.

Lamenting the lack of awareness and need for education to preserve forests as home to more than 50% of the world’s plant and animal species, he decried the cutting of primary forests for products like toilet paper, or clearing forest areas to make palm oil.

"We need elected officials and policy-makers to realize how critical forests are and set goals to expand protected areas to 30% by 2030 and 50% by 2050 – with forests making up a critical portion of these protected areas," he said.

Miller said companies that make forest commitments should ease pressure on forests as well as expand the use of recycled and FSC certified products.

Established in 1993 in Germany, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit working to promote responsible management of the earth's forests.

Citing the group’s campaign to stem deforestation of Canada’s Boreal forest, he said that they tried to push Procter and Gamble (P&G) to commit to not using forests for toilet paper.

"It's not easy to get them to do the right thing, but we've been encouraging citizens to look for recycled products because there are so many choices out there."

He added that Stand Earth is currently focused on protecting the upper Amazon in Ecuador and Peru from expanding oil development as well as protecting key forests in Canada.

Founded in 2000, Stand.earth, formerly ForestEthics, challenges corporations and governments to treat people and the environment with respect as lives depend on it.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed March 21 the International Day of Forests in 2012.

The day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests, and every year, countries are encouraged to mount local, national, and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting-campaigns.

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