Saving tropics could cut emissions

Reducing deforestation in the tropics could cut carbon dioxide emissions by up to one-fifth, a university study shows.

In the first study of its kind, scientists have calculated the amount of carbon absorbed by the world’s tropical forests and the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions created by loss of trees, as a result of human activity.

Loss of forest

Preventing further losses of carbon from our tropical forests must remain a high priority.

Professor John Grace

School of GeoSciences

They found that tropical forests absorb almost two billion tonnes of carbon each year, by storing it in their bark, leaves and soil.

This is equivalent to one-fifth of the world’s carbon emissions,

However, an equivalent amount is lost through logging, clearing of land for grazing, and growing biofuel crops such as palm oil, soya bean and sugar.

Peat fires in forests add significantly to the greenhouse gas emissions.

Warming climate

Researchers estimate that if all human-related deforestation of the tropics were to stop, the forests could absorb more carbon than at present, equivalent to one-fifth of global emissions.

Researchers say carbon emissions from tropical forests will increase as the climate warms, as rising temperatures accelerate the decay of dead plants and trees, giving off more CO2.

Global temperatures are forecast to rise by two degrees by the year 2099, which is predicted to increase annual carbon emissions from the forest by three-quarters of a billion tonnes.

Multiple studies

Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds analysed data from multiple previous studies, including satellite studies.

This allowed them to determine the amount of carbon absorbed and emitted by the world’s tropical forests, in South and Central America, equatorial Africa and Asia.

Their study, published in Global Change Biology, was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council.

If we limit human activity in the tropical forests of the world, this could play a valuable role in helping to curb the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Professor John Grace

School of GeoSciences

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