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Why Maintaining Tropical Forests Is Essential and Urgent for a Stable Climate

Why Maintaining Tropical Forests Is Essential and Urgent for a Stable Climate - Working Paper 385

Rosa C. Goodman and Martin Herold
November 4, 2014
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Tropical forests have the highest carbon density and cover more land area than forests in any other biome. They also serve a vital role as a natural buffer to climate change ―capturing 2.2–2.7 Gt of carbon per year. Unfortunately, tropical forests, mangroves, and peatlands are also subjected to the highest levels of deforestation and account for nearly all net emissions from Forestry and Other Land Use (FOLU) (1.1–1.4 Gt C / year). Net emissions from FOLU accounted for only 11% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions or 14% of total carbon emissions in 2010, though these figures are somewhat misleading and do not reflect the full potential of tropical forests to mitigate climate change. First, net FOLU emissions have reduced only slightly while emissions from all other sectors have skyrocketed. Secondly, the FOLU net flux is made up of two larger fluxes —deforestation emissions (2.6–2.8 Gt C / year) minus sequestration from forest regrowth (1.2–1.7 Gt C / year). Additionally, intact tropical forests also appear to be capturing at least 1.0 Gt C/ year. Gross deforestation, therefore, accounts for over a quarter of all carbon emissions, and tropical forests have removed 22–26% of all anthropogenic carbon emissions in the 2000s. If deforestation were halted entirely, forests were allowed to regrow, and mature forests were left undisturbed, tropical forests alone could have captured 25–35% of all other anthropogenic carbon emissions. On the other hand, if climate change continues unabated, forests could turn from net sinks to net sources of carbon. Forestrelated activities are among the most economically feasible and cost-effective mitigation strategies, which are important for both short- and long-term mitigation strategies. Action is needed immediately to utilize these natural mitigation solutions, and we need coordinated and comprehensive forest-related policies for mitigation. An international mechanism such as REDD+ is essential to realize the great natural potential for tropical forests to stabilize the climate.

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