Why Forest Carbon Emissions Are Set To Grow

Why Forest Carbon Emissions Are Set To Grow

Tropical forests, like this in the Ecuadorean Andes, are set to become carbon sources. Image: By Seuayan ravina, via Wikimedia Commons

The tropical forests could be at growing risk from climate change. And as they die, rising forest carbon emissions could threaten much of the Earth’s life.

Accelerating climate change is likely to result in growing forest carbon emissions, with serious consequences both for the creatures that find shelter there, and for the global atmosphere.

The world’s great tropical forests – home to most of the world’s wild things, and immense stores of carbon from the atmosphere – could soon start to release  more carbon than they absorb, scientists say.

If this happens, probably as a result of exploitation, drought and extremes of heat, then the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue to rise, and with them, atmospheric and oceanic temperatures and the threat of catastrophic climate change, according to a new study.

Edward Mitchard, an earth scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, spells out the challenge in the journal Nature, using scientific language of unusual clarity.

Carbon source

“Tropical forests are in the process of switching from being approximately neutral to being a net source of carbon. This decline is caused by the combination of a decrease in the area of intact forest as well as an increase in temperatures and drought, which reduces the ability of trees to respond to higher CO2 concentrations by growing faster.”

And he writes: “With both forest loss and climate change likely to accelerate over the 21st century, tropical forests are likely to release ever more carbon, which will make limiting global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels very difficult.”

In 2015, in Paris, 195 nations vowed to contain global warming to a level “well below” 2°C by 2100. In fact, in the first two centuries since humans began using fossil fuels in ever-greater quantities, to release ever higher levels of greenhouse gases, the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have crept up by almost 1°C already.

So to contain warming to no more than an ambitious 1.5°C humans need not only to switch at speed to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, but to preserve and if possible restore the world’s great tropical forests.

These alone perform 60% of all the world’s photosynthesis and capture about 72 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year. Since very nearly the same levels of carbon go back into the atmosphere – from plants, fungi, animals and microorganisms in the forests – their preservation is vital.

“Fifty years ago biologists expected to be the first to find a species; now they hope not to be the last”

And yet, repeatedly, researchers have warned that their role as carbon absorbers is being eroded by exploitation, clearing, fire, drought and heat.

Preservation of the tropical forests matters for reasons beyond their role as absorbers of atmospheric carbon. The tropics provide food and shelter for 91% of all terrestrial birds; and three-fourths of all amphibians, land mammals, freshwater fish, ants, flowering plants and marine fish.

Detailed economic studies have confirmed, again and again, that the preservation of tropical biodiversity profits all humankind. And an even greater number of studies has confirmed that species loss and extinction is on the increase, and climate change can only accelerate the slaughter of wild things.

But time is running out, warn researchers in a second study in Nature. Just as the great trees of the forest fall to human exploitation, drought and heat, so do the millions of species that live in the canopies or shelter near the roots.

Unknown species

The tropics cover just 40% of the globe but are home to almost all the world’s shallow-water corals. And most of the creatures in the tropics are neither named nor described.

Biologists are describing new species at the rate of about 20,000 a year. At that rate, it will take another 300 years before they will have got anywhere near completing an inventory of life on Earth. And long before then, many of those unidentified millions will have been extinguished.

“The fate of the tropics will be largely determined by what happens elsewhere on the planet. While most of us are familiar with the impact of climate change on the polar regions, it is also having devastating consequences across the tropics – and without urgent action could undermine local conservation interventions,” said Jos Barlow, a conservation scientist at Lancaster University in the UK, who led the study.

“Fifty years ago biologists expected to be the first to find a species; now they hope not to be the last.” – Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon. (Kindle book)

Related Books:

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

Blue Ocean Event : Game Over?
by Just Have a Think
A Blue Ocean Event, or Ice-Free Arctic, is the source of almost fever pitch speculation in the climate science world.…
Climate Change - The Facts by Sir David Attenborough
by David Attenborough, BBC
After one of the hottest years on record, Sir David Attenborough looks at the science of climate change and potential…
Why it’s time to think about human extinction
by Kerwin Rae
After listening to this ep with Dr David Suzuki, you’ll never be the same again. The environmentalist, activist,…
Record Temperatures 20-25C Above Norm in far North
by Paul Beckwith
The Northwest Territories of Canada had March temperatures above 20C for the first time (hit 21.6C or 71F); breaking…
Why New CO₂ Capture Technology Is Not The Magic Bullet Against Climate Change
Why New CO₂ Capture Technology Is Not The Magic Bullet Against Climate Change
by Chris Hawes
According to a recent major UN report, if we are to limit temperature rise to 1.5 °C and prevent the most catastrophic…
Why Climate Change Will Dull Autumn Leaf Displays
Why Climate Change Will Dull Autumn Leaf Displays
by Matthew Brookhouse
Every autumn we are treated to one of nature’s finest seasonal annual transitions: leaf colour change and fall.
Climate denial isn’t stopping climate action.
by David Wallace-Wells
Climate change denial draws headlines. But is it actually an obstacle to climate action? A great majority of Americans…
Energy Storage: How to store renewable energy?
by Total
Under your bed, in the attic even on your mobile phone, it seems there's never enough storage. It turns out it's also…

LATEST ARTICLES

Crops at risk from changing climate
Crops at risk from changing climate
by Tim Radford
Global warming could bring yet more challenges to a hungry world. New studies have identified precise ways in which a…
Seeing The Planet Break Down In Climate Crisis Is Depressing – How To Turn Your Pain Into Action
Seeing The Planet In Climate Crisis Is Depressing – Turn Your Pain Into Action
by Cameron Brick
Environmentalism can feel like a drag. People trying to reduce their environmental impact often feel stressed and…
Global Inequality Is 25% Higher Than It Would Have Been In A Climate-stable World
by Nicholas Beuret
Those least responsible for global warming will suffer the most. Poorer countries – those that have contributed far…
Jason Kenney's Victory Means We'll All Pay The Price For Fossil Fuel Emissions
Jason Kenney's Victory In Alberta Means We'll All Pay The Price For Fossil Fuel Emissions
by D.T. Cochrane
Jason Kenney has led the United Conservative Party to victory in Alberta. There were manyobjectionablecomponents to the…
How Can Trees Really Cool Our Cities Down?
How Can Trees Really Cool Our Cities Down?
by Roland Ennos, University of Hull
In cities around the world, trees are often planted to help control temperatures and mitigate the effects of the “urban…
Beto O’Rourke Releases $5 Trillion Climate Change Proposal
Beto O’Rourke Releases $5 Trillion Climate Change Proposal
by Global Warming & Climate Change
But Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led activist group that has advocated for the…
Should The Sahara Desert Be Turned Into A Huge Solar Farm?
Should The Sahara Desert Be Turned Into A Huge Solar Farm?
by Amin Al-Habaibeh
Whenever I visit the Sahara I am struck by how sunny and hot it is and how clear the sky can be.
How Retreating From The Sea Level Rise Will Affect Our Health?
How Retreating From The Sea Level Rise Will Affect Our Health?
by Jackson Holtz
Managed retreat in the face of sea level rise will be a mixed bag, researchers predict.