Forests purify the air we breathe,help keep our water safe to drink, protect soil from erosion, provide us with timber and medical plants, and are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity including many threatened and endangered species. In addition, nearly 1.6 billion people all over the world depend on forests for their livelihoods, with 60 million indigenous people relying directly on forests for their living.
Another vital function of forests that is well known is that they help us tackle climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Forests as carbon storehouses
It is now widely accepted among scientists that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are causing changes in the climate patterns, leading to extreme events like heat waves, wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, and threatening many animals and plants which are struggling to adapt to new conditions.
Forests play a crucial role in regulating Earth’s climate patterns.
Mature forests absorb and store enormous quantities of CO2 (a greenhouse gas), within trees, vegetation itself, as well in the form of decaying plant matter in the soil.
Forests in regions like the Congo and the Amazon represent some of the world’s largest natural reservoirs for greenhouse gases on land.
In fact, the Earth’s vegetation and soils consist of around 7,500 Gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 – that is more than double the amount of carbon from the atmosphere.
When forests are converted to agricultural land or logged on a massive scale, large quantities of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
In the recent decades, deforestation became an urgent environmental issue that gradually threatens environment, biodiversity, people’s livelihoods, and intensifies climate change.
Deforestation and climate change
Statements on the contribution of deforestation to climate change vary, but are commonly reported to be close to 19 % of global emissions – higher than the emissions released by the entire global transport sector.
Deforestation is the result of the growing human population that demand more timber for products such as paper or furniture, and the conversion of forest for settlements, crops and livestock.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the world’s largest environmental organizations, 32 million acres of tropical rainforest were cut down every year between 2000 and 2009.
Unless we change the present system that rewards forest destruction, forest clearing will put another 200 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere in coming decades…— Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)
The Amazon, Earth’s largest rainforest, lost 20% of its forest in the last 40 years due to human activity. The island of Sumatra (Indonesia) lost 85% of its forests – mainly because of conversion for oil palm and pulp plantations. Many other forest areas across the planet are in the same danger (Russia’s boreal forest, Congo basin).
Deforestation is continuing at a frightening rate and consequently the potential of forests to contribute even more to the greenhouse gas emissions is massive. Actions to reduce deforestation will require local authorities to cooperate with worldwide organizations to adopt new strategies and regulations, better enforcement of existing laws, more severe punishments for illegal logging activities, and financial compensation for local communities that depend on the logging business.