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Greenhouse gas emissions from tropical forest degradation: An underestimated source

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Scientists from Winrock International have published the first consistent and complete analysis of emissions from forest degradation across the tropics. Their assessment, published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management, shows that in 74 tropical countries the amount of carbon released as a result of forest degradation exceeds all expectations. Emissions from degradation are equivalent to 4.3 percent of total global emissions and are almost five times greater than the emissions from global aviation.

This study is an important step toward a more comprehensive understanding of the role of forest degradation in global emissions and the opportunity to mitigate its impact. Forest degradation has been a critical yet unknown element of the global carbon cycle. This study for the first time puts a number to the emissions.

The study highlights an important opportunity to mitigate climate change, which can benefit the poorest populations and most highly endangered ecosystems. Forest degradation occurs where humans directly interact with forests for resources, lives and livelihoods. We can’t put a fence around forests, but knowledge and planning can help us to make sustainable use of forests and forest resources.

The findings demonstrate the large role forest degradation plays in global land use emissions, with the total emissions from degradation comprising 25 percent of the combined emissions from degradation and deforestation. Among the forest degradation activities assessed, timber harvesting had the largest impact (53 percent), followed by woodfuel (30 percent) and fire (17 percent). Regional patterns also emerged, with emissions from woodfuel having the largest impact in East Africa, South Asia and Indonesia; the magnitude of timber harvesting emissions highest in Brazil and Indonesia; and emissions from fire most notable in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and parts of the Brazilian Amazon.

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