Carbon Emissions From Deforestation Revised Down

palm oil plantation photo

photo: Wakx/Creative Commons

Initially estimated at about 20% of total CO2 emissions, then revised downwards to about 15% last year, new research claims that the carbon emissions from deforestation may be just half of that lower estimate. There's a whole array of good, bad, and muddled news here.First the research, quoting New Scientist:

Ecologists at Winrock International, a respected US consultancy based in Arlington, Virginia, whose work was funded by the World Bank and the Norwegian government, says a more detailed analysis puts [the emissions from deforestation] for 2000 to 2005 at around 8 percent, with a possible range between 5 and 12 percent. Nancy Harris of Winrock said in Cancun that the estimate was "the lowest reported to date."

The good news in that is that in the narrowly defined terms of effect on climate change, deforestation may not be as bad as we thought.

The bad news in that is that if the Winrock analysis turns out to be correct, the argument that preserving forests for their carbon value alone--something that the UN REDD program, Prince Charles' Rainforest Project, and several carbon offset programs count upon both financially and ideologically--all of a sudden becomes a bit more difficult to make.

Which gets us to the muddled part of the news.

Muddle one: As scientists referenced in the original article mention, the Winrock analysis well may be right for deforestation by farmers, but may underestimate the emissions from logging and conversion of forests (particular forests grown on peat soils) to plantation agriculture where emissions have been documented to be significantly higher.

corbett national park forest photo

photo: netlancer2006/Creative Commons

Muddle two: There's some unfortunate compartmentalized thinking perpetuated here potentially causing some people (forgive the pun, really) to miss the forest for the trees when it comes to assessing the value of intact forests.

The carbon storage potential is only one part of that value, even if all to often in that latter part of the year when there's a UN climate conference underway, the only thing anyone seems to be able to report upon or release reports about is carbon.

Intact forests are critical for preserving biodiversity of plants and animals, sustainably providing valuable natural resources (if managed well), provide livelihoods for countless numbers of people, help regulate weather, and (branching out from the biological and ecological) provide important place for contemplation, solace, recreation, and spiritual connection with the world outside of the confines of purely human creation.

Considering the fragmentation of thinking and reduction to human utility value that predominates in many environmental discussions, failure to mention the non-carbon value in such a situation is a serious omission.

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More on Deforestation:
Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Deforestation & Forest Degradation Overestimated by IPCC
Carbon Emissions From Amazon Deforestation Increase as Older Forest Cleared
Missing the Trees for the Forest: Emissions From Forest Degradation Just As Bad As From Deforestation

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