Destruction of the rainforest releases carbon dioxide through disturbing the residue of carbon in the soil, the decay of leaves and wood, and combustion. Whilst timber products store carbon, the amounts are relatively small.
|Forest burning for pasture, Central African Republic, CFU000204 © Roberto Faidutti / FAO|
Figures published in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that deforestation contributes 17.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire world transport system.
Tropical forests will themselves react to greater concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and higher temperatures. The scope for human intervention to assist the forest ecosystem to adapt appears very limited.
Much scientific research is therefore concerned with identifying the potential tipping point at which a combination of deforestation, warming and drought could transform the Amazon forest into a dry savannah. The two degree temperature rise regarded as tolerable in UN current climate negotiations may fall outside the precautionary boundaries for this ecosystem.
The prospect of a positive feedback loop between deforestation and climate change has greatly accentuated concerns for stability of the planetary ecosytem.
The Bali Action Plan agreed at the 2007 conference on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) endorsed the vision that tropical forests should have greater value standing than cut down. It initiated studies into “positive incentives” – the provision of financial compensation for developing countries in return for measurable reduction in deforestation.
|Deforestation on Mount Kenya, by treesftf © Flickr|
There has been broad consensus that this approach, known as “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” (REDD), should be a prominent feature of any international climate change agreement that extends or replaces the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. Deforestation was excluded from the Clean Development Mechanism, the method of reducing emissions in developing countries under the Protocol.
The Cancun Agreements reached in 2010 set out in some detail the sequence of preparatory steps that developing countries must follow. Tailored to each country’s circumstances, these steps envisage a national action plan, its implementation and eventual full-scale operation when it must be possible to monitor and verify progress by reference to a baseline rate of deforestation.
The Agreements go beyond the basic goal of reducing deforestation. The aim is “to slow, halt and reverse forest cover and carbon loss.” Qualifying activities have accordingly been extended to include “the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.” The revised acronym “REDD+” reflects this broader vision.
Although formal implementation now hinges on the overall fate of UN climate negotiations, the donor community has been active in supporting country programmes which are designed to “get ready for REDD.” These are led by the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and the UN-REDD Programme.
Continued delays in the UNFCCC process have prompted the formation of the REDD+ Partnership, an initiative launched in Oslo in 2010 with the aim of coordinating effective programmes to reduce deforestation. Involving over 70 developed and developing countries, the REDD+ Partnership.has secured funding commitments amounting to $4.5 billion.