EXPLAINER-Why forests are key to the climate – and not just to absorb carbon

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* Forests are the largest terrestrial carbon sinks in the world

* Stabilization of rainfall, cooling among other benefits

* Deforestation threatens global food and water security

By Jack Graham LONDON, October 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From the Amazon rainforest to the northern hemisphere’s boreal forests, forests play a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) that is warming the planet as the world faces a race against time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Forests are the largest terrestrial carbon sinks, removing approximately 7.6 billion metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, about one and a half times the average annual emissions of the United States. Governments are taking action to protect these natural CO2 sinks, with more than 140 countries committing at UN COP26 talks last year to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030. although a recent analysis revealed that they are not on track.

The Forest Declaration assessment found that global deforestation has slowed by 6.3% in 2021 compared to the 10% annual reduction needed. But protecting forests is about more than protecting their crucial carbon sink capacities.

Forests are also vital to the climate and nature in many other ways, providing benefits that scientists are increasingly able to quantify. So what else can forests do for the planet and its people?

Helping to cool the planet The cooling impact of forests goes beyond their ability to absorb CO2 emissions that warm the planet.

According to a new report from the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank, keeping rainforests standing has a 50% greater impact on lowering global temperatures than can be simply explained by their absorption capacities. carbon. “Forests are even more important than we thought in stabilizing the climate,” said Frances Seymour, WRI principal investigator and co-author of the report.

Stands of trees, for example, provide “evapotranspiration” – the process by which water is released from the ground into the atmosphere to fall as rain. These additional cooling impacts need to be integrated into governments’ climate policies to fully reflect what forests are doing for the planet, the report says.

Supporting food and water security Forests help maintain stable rainfall patterns and local temperatures, which are vital for food and water security, according to the WRI report.

Michael Wolosin, co-author of the report from nonprofit Conservation International, said the disruption to the global food system caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlights the need to protect global forests. Deforestation risks disrupting rainfall patterns that support agriculture, a threat that “is very real and that we need to address through global negotiations”, he said.

The Brazilian Amazon, for example, according to the report, is helping to maintain vital rainfall in several other countries, affecting agricultural production as far away as Argentina. As deforestation turns parts of the world’s largest rainforest into dry savannah, scientists fear the Amazon is approaching a tipping point beyond which it may never recover.

Protecting people against natural disasters Another benefit of forests is their ability to act as a buffer against natural disasters, which have become more and more frequent due to climate change.

Tree canopies can intercept rainfall and slow it down during a storm, allowing up to 30% of water to evaporate into the atmosphere without reaching the ground, according to UK charity Woodland Trust. Some cities use urban forests to become more resistant to flooding, as the trees provide more permeable land to absorb rainwater.

In Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, for example, after devastating landslides in 2017, the mayor’s recovery plan included training residents to plant 21,000 native trees. In all equatorial regions of the world, mangrove forests not only store a significant amount of carbon, but also provide a defense against coastal erosion and storm surges.

Defending global biodiversity Another vital contribution of forests is their impact on biodiversity, as these ecosystems are home to more than half of the world’s terrestrial animal and plant species.

In addition to protecting nature, forests can provide a range of benefits to people, from forest foods to medicines. Especially in tropical regions, deforestation has been linked to increased infectious disease outbreaks, especially when animals come into closer contact with humans.

According to a recent analysis by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), global wildlife populations have declined by more than two-thirds since 1970, with deforestation being a major driver. In the Amazon, more than 10,000 species are threatened with extinction due to the clearing of rainforest for purposes such as cattle ranching and soybean cultivation.

Providing sustainable life for communities Deforestation directly leads to increased local temperatures, exposing people and crops to heat stress, WRI said.

These local temperature extremes pose a particular threat in the tropics to small-scale farmers, agricultural workers, indigenous peoples and other local communities, WRI’s Seymour said. Indigenous communities in particular depend on forests for their way of life. Research shows they are also best placed to conserve these areas, leading to calls to put more resources into the hands of frontline communities.

In the Amazon Basin, a 2021 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) showed that deforestation rates are up to 50% lower in indigenous peoples’ forest lands than in other regions. As world leaders seek to tackle a growing climate, nature and biodiversity crisis, they should take the multiple roles of forests more seriously, the authors of the WRI report said.

“Forests are really part of a bigger picture to keep communities healthy and safe in a changing climate,” Wolosin said. Originally posted at: https://www.context.news/net-zero/why-forests-are-key-to-the-climate-and-not-just-to-absorb-carbon

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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