New paper reveals key to solving global warming: save the rainforest

Rainforest Trust

Nov 25, 2015


Bold commentary from Rainforest Trust board director published ahead of Paris Climate Convention

Tropical forest conservation and restoration could constitute half of the global warming solution, according to a peer-reviewed commentary published today in the December issue of Nature Climate Change. The commentary, “A Role for Tropical Forests in Stabilizing Atmospheric CO2” was co-authored by Rainforest Trust Board Director Brett Byers.

  • Photo by Thomas Mueller

“Tropical forest conservation could provide as much as half of the net carbon dioxide emissions reductions from current levels over the next 50 years,” Byers said. “Tropical forest conservation will be key to the fight against global warming, but it is going to take dramatically increased efforts in the government, charitable and corporate sectors. We’ve protected more than 500 millions acres of tropical forest so far, but the protection of the more than 1 billion remaining acres is urgent.”

Tropical forest destruction and degradation is the second largest source of CO2 emissions, well behind the burning of fossil fuels. The paper shows how rainforest conservation could be as significant to fighting climate change as reducing the use of fossil fuels.

The Nature Climate Change article describes two reasons for the tremendous potential of conservation in mitigating global warming. First, forest conservation can be implemented far faster than the use of fossil fuel can be eliminated in part because industrial capacity will take decades to produce and install alternatives to fossil fuel use. Second, the recovery of hundreds of million of acres of selectively logged tropical forest would absorb massive amounts of CO2 for 50 to 100 or more years.

“This new paper is truly groundbreaking—and potentially game-changing—as it comes just one week before what hopefully will be an historic Paris Climate Convention,” said Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier, Rainforest Trust advisory council member. “Taken together with the many other ecosystem services provided by these forests and the enormous wealth of biodiversity living within them, this paper strongly mandates a greater focus on protecting our remaining tropical forests than ever before.”

According to the article, the reduction and elimination of fossil fuels is not enough to prevent 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, a level generally seen as dangerous. Prompt tropical forest conservation and restoration, on the other hand, will make such a level of warming unlikely. Because of its near-term potential to reduce CO2 emissions and also to absorb vast amounts of CO2, tropical forest conservation and restoration could provide a bridge to a post-fossil fuel planet.

“I am hopeful that this critically important analysis will focus renewed attention on rainforest conservation,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “Peru’s newly created 3.3-million acre Sierra del Divisor National Park alone, for example, supported by Rainforest Trust, sequesters more than 500 million tons of CO2. That’s equivalent to more than half the annual emissions of all the cars in the United States.”

Other land use changes, such as conservation outside the tropics and changes in agricultural practices, could also enhance the likelihood of avoiding dangerous levels of global warming. But the paper indicates that tropical forest conservation is the most significant and timely land-use opportunity available to address global warming.

Additional Information:

Nature Climate Change

A Role for Tropical Forests In Stabilizing Atmospheric CO2 – Sierra del Divisor National Park

Rainforest Trust is a nonprofit conservation organization focused on saving rainforest and endangered species in partnership with local conservation leaders and communities. Since its founding in 1988, Rainforest Trust has preserved over 11 million acres of rainforest and other tropical habitats in Latin America, Africa, and Asia in over 100 project sites across 20 countries.