Forest Conservation, Reforestation Can Mitigate Climate Change
Forest conservation is critical to life as we know it. Forests sequester carbon and release oxygen. They influence rainfall, filter fresh water and prevent flooding and soil erosion. They produce wild foods, fuelwood and medicines. While the pressures on our vanishing forests vary around the world, the biggest cause of deforestation is expanding agriculture – including commercial livestock and major crops such as palm oil and soy.
Small-scale farmers also play a role as they often slash and burn land every year just to survive. Mining, hydroelectricity and new roads add to the pressure on vanishing forests around the globe.
Deforestation has caused about 20 percent of the rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The rise in greenhouse gases, both human caused and natural, is contributing to unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which contributes to climate change, extreme weather and threats to life as we know it.
Deforestation also cripples our planet’s capacity to capture carbon from the atmosphere, while contributing to the loss of endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants and many others.
Trees and forests can capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, return the oxygen to the atmosphere and store the carbon for centuries. Deforestation is disrupting this vital system, while contributing to global warming and climate change.
Forests can absorb some of the carbon dioxide that we all produce in our daily lives. Unfortunately, our remaining forests are under siege. We can reverse the trend now by demanding forest conservation and reforestation of as much land as possible.
If we could stop tropical deforestation today, allow damaged forests to grow back, and protect mature forests, the resulting reduction in emissions and removal of carbon from the atmosphere could equal up to one-third of current global emissions from all sources.
Reforestation is a critical part of the solution to many of our most pressing sustainability challenges.
Many developing countries have indicated that they would be willing to reduce emissions further in return for international financial support. Rich countries could do more to fight climate change at lower cost by financing tropical forest conservation in addition to their own domestic emission cuts. The few REDD+ agreements already in place have priced avoided CO2 emissions at only $5 per ton, truly a bargain compared to most other options.
In both Brazil and Indonesia, national efforts to reduce deforestation have been associated with greater transparency, increased law enforcement targeted at forest-related crime and corruption and steps to strengthen the land rights of indigenous peoples. A broad coalition of governments, multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations and indigenous groups recognized these potential benefits in the September 2014 New York Declaration on Forests.
Elsewhere around the world, thousands of community stakeholders across East Africa are ready to act now. They can help us all fight global climate change, while defending critical ecosystems in Tanzania, Kenya and beyond.
We have approved plans to plant more than 110 million new trees on millions of hectares in Tanzania and Kenya alone. We’re developing more forestry and agroforestry projects around the world, which will:
- Absorb carbon dioxide to battle climate change;
- Defend ecosystems and biodiversity;
- Preserve watersheds and control flooding;
- Preserve and create habitat for wildlife;
- Preserve local lifestyles and cultures, while promoting sustainability; and
- Create jobs for men and women that can help defend endangered ecosystems.
A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme says that protecting East Africa’s mountain ecosystems would safeguard the region’s $7 billion tourism industry, not to mention the lives of millions of people and iconic endangered species.
“Across the continent, the damage done to these ecosystems is depriving people of the basic building blocks of life,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment agency.
He said Mt. Kilimanjaro was an example of how climate change was severely damaging Africa’s mountains and the people who depend on them. Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa, contributes to more than a third of Tanzania’s revenue from tourism but is facing several problems, ranging from shrinking glacier to rampant wild fires. As climate change intensifies, it is essential that governments act swiftly to prevent more harm and more downward momentum. The report urges Tanzania to protect the mountain’s water catchment area by reforestation, investing in early warning systems and making climate adaptation a top priority.