Tropical forests are becoming too small to offset CO2 from deforestation

Forests are the lungs of our planet. They absorb CO2 and produce oxygen, making our climate cleaner. Forests are natural way of nature to maintain itself, but we are not taking a proper care of them. We are cutting down huge areas of the forest for lumber or to make space of agriculture. Now scientists from the University of Edinburgh say that it may turn the forest in tropical regions into the cause of climate change rather than a solution.

Tropical forests are becoming quite thin. Image credit: USAID via Wikimedia

Forests actually have a potential to help us fight the climate change. They absorb the CO2, which is one of the major greenhouse gases. However, by clearing out huge areas of the forest for agriculture we are limiting forests’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide as this new study shows. In other words, cutting down trees could make goals of the Paris Agreement of 2015 unattainable. But how forests can become a source of CO2 instead of a helper in the fight against the climate change? Well, forests do not emit CO2, but deforestation does.

Forests are attracting companies that want to make money from lumber or to clear out some land for agriculture of commercial activities. Scientists are estimating that tropical forests right now are able to absorb as much CO2 as is emitted through deforestation by heavy equipment, logistics and all that stuff. In other words, we increased commercial activities in the forest and reduced the area of tropical forests so far the remaining trees cannot keep up with CO2 that forestry industry is emitting. Scientists estimate that loss of forest to deforestation and degradation contributes about one-fifth of recent man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Should we plant more trees? Well, not necessarily. If we slow down on deforestation, remaining forests will start to flourish because of all that CO2 in the air.

Scientists say that it is very hard to predict what is going to happen to tropical forests because of our actions. Dr Ed Mitchard, one of the authors of the study, said: “Predicting how tropical forests will affect climate is a complex challenge – we do not know how climate will affect forests, nor if countries will meet their commitments to safeguard them. Worryingly, research indicates that forests could soon stop counteracting warming, and instead become a major source of greenhouse gas”.

We have to allow forests to recover. If they survive, we will survive. Reduction of CO2 is not enough – we have to look into ways that allow nature to repair itself and contribute to the fight against the climate change.


Source: University of Edinburgh


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