In the world’s tropical forests, small-scale disturbances like fires and minor logging are adding up for a net carbon loss per above ground measurements
Researchers found that forests lost more carbon across every continent, with the average loss across the tropics of about 425 million metric tons a year—nearly a tenth of the annual U.S. carbon footprint. Of the total carbon loss, the researchers found that 69 percent came as a result of this smaller-scale degradation and disturbance.
The clear-cutting of giant swathes from the globe’s tropical forests has long been understood to be a major force behind global warming, but new research finds that smaller-scale forest loss—from minor logging and fires—is an even more powerful driver of climate change.
On Thursday, scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University published a study in the journal Science that says the planet’s tropical forests are releasing more carbon dioxide than they can store, mostly due to “fine scale” degradation and disturbance that previous studies haven’t captured.
The finding means tropical forests may not act as carbon “sinks” unless both deforestation writ large and this more subtle degradation is stopped or slowed….
…Walker and his colleagues found that forests lost more carbon across every continent, with the average loss across the tropics of about 425 million metric tons a year—nearly a tenth of the annual U.S. carbon footprint. Of the total carbon loss, the researchers found that 69 percent came as a result of this smaller-scale degradation and disturbance.
“With degradation, you lose a few trees here and there—from selective logging, from people relying on wood for fuel, people foraging and collecting,” Walker said. “But you also have natural disturbance from drought, and increasingly, with climate change, you have fire where you didn’t before.”
Their research concluded that total yearly losses were about 862 million metric tons of carbon, while gains were about 437 million metric tons of carbon across the tropics. Most of the loss was attributable to Latin America—home to the Amazonian rainforest—and nearly 24 percent to Africa and 16 percent to Asia….
…the United Nations REDD+ program—Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation—was included in the Paris agreement, the first time it was part of a major international climate deal. But, the program, in which developing countries are paid to leave forests intact, depends on more accurate reporting of forest carbon loss. …