This article looks into tropical forests as a climate change solution. It is based on the analysis of Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative to map the top 100 most effective solutions to reverse global warming.
As I begin this article, I am minded to quote the brilliant opening line from Alan Grainger’s seminal 1993 work Controlling Tropical Deforestation when stated simply that “the tropical rain forests are falling at human hands.” This was true at the time of publication and it is unfortunately still true now.
The Drawdown authors open with their own bleak assessment of the situation:
“In recent decades, tropical forests – those located within 23.5 degrees north or south of the equator – have suffered extensive clearing, fragmentation, degradation, and depletion of flora and fauna.”
But the authors do point towards a brighter future:
“Yet even as deforestation persists, the regrowth of tropical forests sequesters as much as six gigatons of carbon dioxide per year. That is equivalent to 11 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide or all those emitting from the United States.”
Despite this, the authors highlight that: “tropical forest loss alone is responsible for 16 to 19 percent of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.” This is a significant impact.
Let’s look into the numbers that allowed tropical forests to be ranked as the 5th most effective climate change solution by Project Drawdown. They calculated that restoration on 435 million acres of tropical forests could reduce CO2 emissions by 61.23 gigatons by 2050. They stated that global cost and savings data was too variable to be determined. Regardless, this is a big solution, with the potential to absorb massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
The authors also point out that even though much original forest cover has lost, restoration is effective:
“In a median time of sixty-six years, tropical forests can recover 90 percent of the biomass that old-growth landscapes contain.”
The authors close with the following poignant statement:
“Success depends on changing land-use practices and reducing meat consumption, so we can feed a growing global population without expanding agricultural acreage. One of the dominant storylines of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the vast loss of forestland. Its restoration and re-wilding could be the twenty-first-century story.”
What you need to know
This article looked into tropical forests as a climate change solution. It was based on the analysis of Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative that mapped the top 100 most effective climate change solutions.
It is clear from the analysis of Project Drawdown that tropical deforestation is a significant contributor to man made carbon emissions, but that restoration in this area could go a long way to storing massive amounts of carbon emissions.
These forests are also home to indigenous tribes, rare plants and large numbers of wildlife. The rationale for better protection and restoration of tropical forests extends well beyond their role as a climate change solution.
From Grainger’s 1993 line that “the tropical rain forests are falling at human hands” – could the 21st century narrative be that the tropical rain forests were rebuilt with human hands?
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
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