ANDREAS BRINK Ten of the world’s most preserved forests have become net emitters of carbon, as they are reduced far below ordinary standards by human activity and climate change.
The disturbing insight is from a study of planet-warming gases emitted from and fully engaged by forests in Unesco World Heritage sites.
It disclosed 10 protected forests had discharged more carbon than they locked away over the past 20 years.
World heritage forests covers an area twice the size of Germany.
The same research also disclosed the network of 257 World Heritage forests around the world as a whole removed 190 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year.
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Dr Tales Carvalho Resende, said from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco),
“That is nearly half of the UK’s annual carbon emissions from fossil fuels,” he co-authored the report.
“We now have the most detailed picture to date of the vital role that [these] forests play in mitigating climate change.”
Still forests face a raft of pressures, in addition to illegal logging, the extension of farming and wildfires – which are made very probable by climate change.
merging satellite-derived data with observing information at the site level, scientist approximated the carbon absorbed and emitted by World Heritage forests between 2001 and 2020.
Still as well as calculating the billions of tonnes of carbon absorbed by all that “biomass” of trees and vegetation, the experimentation revealed how much duress some of these sites were under.
The sites studied in this evaluation have some of the highest levels of official protection.
They are considered globally important in terms of their natural value to the world and are carefully and constantly monitor
“But they’re still under significant pressure,” Dr Carvalho Resende said.
“The main pressures are agricultural encroachment, illegal logging – human-induced pressures.
“But we also found climate-related threats – most specifically wildfires.”
In the last few years, what Unesco called “unprecedented wildfires”, especially in Siberia, the US and Australia, have generated tens of millions of tonnes of CO2.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” Dr Carvalho Resende said.
“More carbon emissions means more wildfires, which means more carbon emissions.”
And wildfires are not the only climate-related disaster.
World Heritage sites that were net carbon contributors from 2001-2020
The tropical rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia
The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, Honduras
Yosemite National Park, US
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, Canada and US
The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains, South Africa
Kinabalu Park, Malaysia
The Uvs Nuur Basin, Russia and Mongolia
Grand Canyon National Park, US
The Greater Blue Mountains area, Australia
Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica
Hurricane Maria pull down an estimated 20% of the forest cover in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica, in 2017.
“There’s an alarming message from this study,” Dr Carvalho Resende declared.
“Even the best and most protected forest areas in the world are threatened by the global climate crisis.
“So action [to cut global emissions] is really needed now to ensure that these forests – that all forests – can continue to act as carbon sinks and, of course, as important sites for biodiversity.”