Tropical deforestation is continuing at an alarming rate. Between 1990 and 2010, the rate of deforestation averaged about 13 million hectares a year, occurring mostly in tropical countries.
That means we are losing about 350 km2 of forest each day, or an area the size of New York City every two days. Every year we lose a forest the size of England.
Trees store carbon. That is how they grow. They turn atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), water and sunlight into wood, and produce the oxygen we breathe as a bi-product. When a forest is destroyed (deforestation) the carbon stored in the trees is released as CO2 emissions, contributing to the other sources of man made emissions of greenhouse gases that are collectively causing climate change. In fact, deforestation and forest degradation currently account for 17% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions – which is more than the entire global transportation sector, and comparable to all the world’s industrial activity. (Fig. 1). Emissions from tropical deforestation and degradation are comparable to the total annual CO2 emissions of the United States or China. Urgent action to tackle tropical deforestation therefore needs to be a central part of future climate change mitigation plans.
In addition to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, forest conservation has many other benefits to all of us. Forests deliver many ecosystem services that are essential for human livelihood and well-being, at both the regional and global scale. These ecosystem services include regulating rainfall, providing flood defense, maintaining soil stability, and supporting high levels of biodiversity. The biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits of forests are especially important to the well-being of the world’s poor. Over 90% of those who live on less than $1 per day depend to some extent on forests for their livelihoods, and conservation of those areas is therefore particularly beneficial to the development of poor communities.5,6 In this sense, REDD+ may not only play a significant role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, but may also significantly contribute to sustainable development opportunities in developing countries.
5 Elliasch Review of UK Office of Climate Change (2008).
6 Turner et al. 2012. “Global Biodiversity Conservation and the Alleviation of Poverty.” Bioscience. Volume 62, No. 1. P. 85-92.