The climate crisis is no longer an event on the horizon, it’s here. How has this happened?
In the past 200 years, the burning of fossil fuels has released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere heating our planet. This rising heat (we’re talking one degree celsius) disrupts every natural process on earth and threatens the biodiverse systems that sustain our lives as we know them.
Deforestation is not the sole cause of climate change but it is significant, being responsible for 8% of CO2 emissions. More importantly, keeping rainforest intact can provide 23% of climate mitigation urgently needed to cool our planet.
Never have we as a species seen so much consensus, and action, as we do in fighting the climate crisis. Protecting rainforest is desperately underfunded, but you can change that. We can fill in the gaps, make mighty leaps and transform the fate of some of the largest carbon sinks on earth.
Now is the time to use our human potential and act now.
Protecting tropical forests is essential for achieving the climate goals of the Paris Agreement. Global Forest Watch Climate recently released estimated carbon dioxide emissions associated with the 2017 tropical tree cover loss data, and the numbers demonstrate more of what we already knew. If tropical tree cover loss continues at the current rate, it will be nearly impossible to keep warming below the pledged two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Below are five numbers that demonstrate just how important tropical forests are in preventing further climate change, and how much more visibility they need on the global climate change mitigation agenda.
Annual gross carbon dioxide emissions from tree cover loss in tropical countries averaged 4.8 gigatons per year between 2015 and 2017. Put another way, tropical tree cover loss is now causing more emissions every year than 85 million cars would over their entire lifetime.
Across all Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, forests represent a quarter of all planned emission reductions by 2030. Although the rate of tree cover loss declined in some places, the most recent data for 2017 suggests that many countries are moving in the wrong direction to fulfill these goals. Average emissions from 2015 – when the Paris Agreement was signed – through 2017 were 63 percent higher than the average over the 14 years prior (3.0 gigatons per year versus 4.9 gigatons per year).
Global Forest Watch’s annual tree cover loss data provides an unbiased proxy for which nationally-reported estimates of tropical deforestation can be assessed. GFW Climate builds on this global dataset to estimate associated carbon emissions from aboveground biomass clearing.
Beyond their role in the global carbon budget, forests also have an important role in regulating climate at a local level by shading the ground and transpiring water. Every 100 liters of water a tree transpires (just a fraction of what many trees release each day) provides the equivalent of running 2 central air conditioning units for a day (the cooling equivalent of 70 kilowatt-hours of electricity).
On the other hand, deforestation can increase local air temperature in the tropics and temperate zones by one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) and increase daily temperature variation by almost two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the tropics and 2.85 degrees Celsius (5.13 degrees Fahrenheit) in the temperate zone.
About 8 percent of global emissions currently come from tree cover loss in tropical forests, but these same forests can provide 23 percent of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed before 2030. NDCs still fall far short of the total mitigation needed to keep 2030 emissions in line with a two degrees Celsius scenario, and about 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be mitigated annually through the management, protection, and restoration of tropical forests, mangroves and peatlands. That’s equivalent to the total carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions of Russia, the European Union and Japan combined in 2014. This potential comes from the avoided emissions through stopping deforestation and degradation as well as the removal of atmospheric carbon that takes places through forest growth and restoration.
Despite this potential, forest-related finance, even for countries with high rates of deforestation, accounts for less than 3 percent of global climate mitigation-related development funding. To reach global climate goals it’s critical that national and local actors alike double down on the proven strategy of reducing deforestation to mitigate climate change.