The logging and burning of tropical forests create about one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than that emitted from all the cars, planes, and trains in the world.
At the same time, as forests are destroyed, there are fewer trees available to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and give back oxygen. So deforestation and forest degradation are doubly damaging.
17 September 2010
Deforested Land in East Kalimantan
A view of young palm trees in Telen subdistrict, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. This site, or concession, is typical of the currently unsustainable practices of the palm industry. Deforestation is driving climate change and pushing endangered species to the brink of extinction. According to recent estimates, Indonesia is the third largest greenhouse gas polluter of any nation on the planet, largely due to the destruction of its rainforest and peatlands. Clearing massive tracts of forest also has a major impact on wildlife diversity, and creates social conflict with indigenous communities.
Forests: Green Lungs of the Earth
Ancient forests are the natural carbon sinks of the earth. As the trees grow over millennia and centuries, they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They regulate global rainfall and weather patterns, keeping the planet at a healthy balance.
Unfortunately, human activity is destroying ancient forests all around the world, from the Amazon to the Congo to the Paradise Forests of Indonesia. When forests are destroyed, their carbon is released into the atmosphere.
How climate change is hurting forests
Cutting down forests adds to climate change, but climate change itself will also hurt forests.
Droughts and forest fires are expected to increase due to climate change.
Forest fires can be a natural part of forests – they clear dense brush and are part of some species lifecycle. However, forests over-stressed by human activity and drought can also be devastated by them.
There are already indications that the Amazon is drying out, which could lead to a dangerous feedback of fires and desertification.
Invasive insect species may also damage forest health. Insect attacks are likely to increase in frequency and intensity as established forests succumb to the physiological stress associated with warmer, drier conditions.
One of the easiest ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is to end deforestation immediately. But countries in South America, Africa and the Pacific do not have enough of their own money to protect these large tracts of tropical forests.
Forests for Climate is a groundbreaking Greenpeace proposal to protect tropical forests through an innovative international fund. From the Congo to the Amazon, Forests for Climate provides a practical way to conserve tropical forests for our climate while protecting indigenous peoples and biodiversity. The mechanism should become a part of an international climate agreement.
Read more about the Forests for Climate proposal.
Learn more about climate science:
Super greenhouse gases: F-gases
Deforestation and climate change
Scientific consensus on climate change