Massive deforestation leading to climate change, species loss

December 8th, 2008 - 10:59 am ICT by IANS  

Poznan (Poland), Dec 8 (IANS) Deforestation is leading to close to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn are leading to climate change and possible extinction of 20-30 percent of all species on earth.Negotiators at the Dec 1-12 summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in this western Poland city are struggling to find money for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in a post-2012 climate deal.

If they do manage to find a significant sum of money, the Carbon and Biodiversity Demonstration Atlas produced by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will come in very handy indeed.

“At a time of scarce financial resources and economic concerns, every dollar, euro or rupee needs to deliver double, even triple dividends,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“Intelligent investment in forests is a key example where climate benefits and ecosystem benefits can be achieved in one transaction,” he said at the release of the atlas here.

Produced with support from the German government and the Humane Society International, the atlas maps those places that contain major species concentrations and where efforts to stop deforestation will produce maximum benefit.

UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall explained: “The research gives preliminary indications of where investments in reducing emissions from deforestation can not only assist in combating climate change, but can also help the conservation of biodiversity, from amphibians and birds to primates. The atlas is believed to be the first of its kind.”

India’s Western Ghats are among the hotspots identified in the atlas.

“Paramount to a successful REDD initiative is ensuring safeguards for local and indigenous people so that they can benefit from any future REDD arrangements.

“By pinpointing where high densities of carbon overlap with high levels of biodiversity, the atlas spotlights where governments and investors can deal with two crises for the price of one. This does not include the other benefits from investing in forests ecosystem infrastructure, from stabilizing soils to conserving and boosting local and regional water supplies,” Steiner said.

The atlas includes regional as well as national maps for six tropical countries showing where areas of high carbon storage coincide with areas of biodiversity importance. It also shows where existing protected areas are high in both carbon and biodiversity.

The earth’s terrestrial ecosystems store an estimated 2,000 billion tonnes (Gigatonnes) of carbon (GtC) in the biomass above ground and in the soil, with a significant proportion of this in the tropics.

The tropical Andes, for example, is the richest and most diverse biodiversity hotspot in the world while the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest continuous rainforest area, hosts an estimated quarter of the world’s terrestrial species. High biodiversity areas within the tropical Andes and Amazon account for 11 percent of the total carbon stock in the area the experts call the neotropics.

In tropical Africa over 60 percent of the high biodiversity areas are in high carbon areas and contain a total of 18 billion tonnes of carbon. Employing the techniques used in then atlas would make it possible to identify where areas of high carbon density and high density of great apes overlap, in order to find where REDD investment could also benefit great ape conservation.

The national maps in the atlas illustrate different ways of identifying areas of biodiversity importance and their overlaps with high carbon areas. In Tanzania, key biodiversity areas contain 17 percent of the country’s carbon stock.

Vietnam’s protected areas cover 32 percent of the land area that has been identified as having high values for both carbon and biodiversity, demonstrating the potential value of the protected area system for meeting both carbon and biodiversity goals.

In Papua New Guinea the map illustrates how the centre of the country, which is high in biodiversity, also contains areas of large areas of high carbon stock. It also shows that existing protected areas overlap with only 14 percent of the high carbon areas.

“Nature has spent millions of years perfecting carbon capture and storage in forests, peatlands, soils and the oceans while evolving the biodiversity that is central to healthy and economically productive ecosystems,” said Steiner.

“Technological methods for capturing and storing (carbon) will have their role, but the biggest and widest returns may come from investing in and enhancing natural carbon capture and storage systems.

“In doing so, countries will forge part of a global green New Deal in which the infrastructure of economically-important ecosystems is renewed and renovated while sustaining livelihoods and hundreds of thousands of new green jobs in forestry and conservation in developing countries.”

Barney Dickson, head of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Programme at WCMC, said that the new maps are just a first step towards demonstrating how combining different types of data, with relatively simply techniques, can help to identify areas where opportunities and benefits overlap for storing carbon and protecting biodiversity.

His team has used global datasets and biodiversity priorities for this demonstration atlas. These could be improved by using national level data and priorities: “Decisions to reduce emissions at the national level need to be made against national priorities and with the best national data on carbon stocks and biodiversity,” Dickson said.

Such decisions will also need to account for specific pressures that can lead to environmentally destructive changes in land use, such as clearing forests for pasture or growing crops for biofuels, he added.

Using the atlas, experts are looking at how investments in conserving carbon in the forests on the Nigeria-Cameroon border may also assist in conserving the habitat of the highly endangered Cross River gorilla, of which only 250-300 individuals remain.

And in Indonesia, national and local authorities, communities and the oil palm sector will be engaged to reduce emissions from the carbon-rich peat-swamp forest, home of many populations of orangutan.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at

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