Deforestation causes 20% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, which is why it is one of the major issues being addressed at the United Nations’ (UN) Climate-Change Conference happening now in Copenhagen. Deforestation is the second-largest emitter, after the energy sector, emitting even more than the global transportation sector. Here’s why trees are so important—and what our options are for saving them.
Trees and Carbon
How can deforestation cause so much pollution? A tree is 50% carbon, so when felled and left to rot or burned, it releases CO2 into the atmosphere. It is also worth considering the lost potential of carbon-dioxide the tree could have captured if it were left standing, though this isn’t taken into account in pollution calculations. The following facts supplied by the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Billion Tree Campaign show how trees can be among our greatest allies in fighting climate change:
- The net forest loss per day is 20,000 hectares or the equivalent of an area twice the size of Paris. This adds up to 7.3 million hectares per year
- One hectare of trees can absorb 6 tonnes of CO2 a year
- A long haul flight will produce 3.75 tonnes of CO2 (or one tonne of carbon)
- In one year, an average tree inhales 12 kilograms (26 pounds) of CO2 and exhales enough oxygen for a family of four for a year
The Billion Tree Campaign is a worldwide tree-planting effort that encourages individuals, groups and organizations (even governments) to enter tree-planting pledges online, with the goal of planting one billion trees each year.
Six of 16 international climate-change funds set up in the last few years focus on deforestation, which is great if the money is put into action. These include: the UN-REDD Programme Fund (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries); the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and pilot Forest Investment Programme; the GEF’s (Global Environment Facility) Sustainable Forest Management Program (with the associated Tropical Forest Account); Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative; and Australia’s Global Initiative on Forests and Climate
Using the Funds
The UN-REDD Programme is a collaboration between the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UNEP, and predicts that it could raise up to $30 billion a year, which will be used as incentives for poor countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and invest in alternative green development.
Another solution is to use money from the carbon market to pay developing countries for reducing their deforestation. The thought of rewarding someone to stop doing something harmful while giving no reward to those who were doing right all along seems unfair. But the only way to encourage poor forested nations to give up deforestation may be to make up for their loss of livelihood, which might otherwise sink them further into poverty.
A related idea is for developed countries to pay forested developing nations to set up rainforest protection plans that would receive money only upon result. This would be fairer, by rewarding everyone for doing right, not just those who had stopped doing wrong.
Article 3.3 of the Kyoto Protocol calls for forests to be maintained by afforestation (starting a forest on previously unforested land), reforestation (replanting a deforested area) and by halting deforestation, but it is essential that this is included in the successor to the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. Let’s hope an agreement can be reached at the Copenhagen Conference to do this.
- UNFCCC & Kyoto Protocol - While the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change encourages the lowering of greenhouse-gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol binds countries to meeting the targets (if they signed the Protocol). The Kyoto Protocol is part of the UNFCCC.