Tropical Forests Better Left Intact As Carbon Sinks Than Converted to Biofuel Plantations

malaysia rainforest photo

photo: Steven Wong

That may be an obvious statement for regular followers of renewable energy news, and of the green movement in general, but a new study published in Conservation Biology illustrates just how important intact tropical forests are in slowing climate change. And just how counter productive converting them to biofuel plantations really is. Here’s the gist of it:600 Years of Carbon Emissions Stored In Peat Soils
Science Codex sums it up:

The study reveals that it would take at least 75 years for the carbon emissions saved through the use of biofuels to compensate for the carbon lost through forest conversion. And if the original habitat was carbon-rich peatland, the carbon balance would take more than 600 years.

Let’s just make that clear again: Cut down tropical rainforest (say in Indonesia and Malaysia), plant the land with a biofuel crop (perhaps oil palms) and because of the soil on which that forest used to grow it would take 600 hundred years for the carbon emitted from that land conversion to be balanced out by carbon savings by using that biofuel for transport. Six hundred years. If the forests were on non-peat soils it would still take the better part of a century to make up the difference.

Plus, Biodiversity & Natural Capital Depletion...
And that doesn’t even take into account the loss in biodiversity, natural capital, unpaid ecosystem services, and potential lost income from sustainable use of forest products or eco-tourism.

Faizal Parish of Malaysia’s Global Environmental Center weighs in on the wisdom of converting tropical forest to plantation agriculture,

It's a huge contradiction to clear tropical rain forests to grow crops for so-called 'environmentally friendly' fuels. This is not only an issue in South East Asia – in Latin America forests are being cleared for soy production which is even less efficient at biofuel production compared to oil palm. Reducing deforestation is a much more effective way for countries to reduce climate change while also meeting their obligations to protect biodiversity.

Any biofuel plantations in tropical forest regions should be considered only in former forest land which has already been severely degraded to support only grassy vegetation. Care is further needed to prevent such plantations from stimulating further forest degradation in adjacent areas.

via: Science Codex
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