More than half world’s science academies have signed a statement supporting a plan to save tropical forests as a means to fight climate change, reports the Global Canopy Program, an initiative that has worked closely with Prince Charles to promote rainforest conservation.
The statement argues that tropical forest protection is a critical strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15-20 years. It calls upon world leaders to reach a consensus on a path forward for a funding package that would support the infrastructure needed to develop an effective reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism.
“There can be no solution to climate change without addressing deforestation,” reads the statement. “Deforestation must be addressed now, not later, if we are to meet an 80% CO2 reduction target by 2050.”
“Forests play a critical role in the climate system by providing a natural carbon capture and storage function and by regulating rainfall patterns; sustainable forest management can make a major contribution to climate change mitigation… Intact and healthy forests provide food, energy, water, shelter and flood protection services, reducing the vulnerability of
rural populations to climate change and enabling adaptation to climate impacts.”
The statement also calls for certain safeguards to be included in a forest provision under a climate agreement.
“Any agreement reached as part of the UNFCCC negotiations must respect the rights of forest dwellers and forest dependent peoples when designing and implementing schemes, and promote sustainable development pathways that do not involve deforestation.”
The text of the statement follows.
IAP STATEMENT ON TROPICAL FORESTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE
• There can be no solution to climate change without addressing deforestation;
• Deforestation must be addressed now, not later, if we are to meet an 80% CO2 reduction target by 2050;
• Forests play a critical role in the climate system by providing a natural carbon capture and storage function and by
regulating rainfall patterns; sustainable forest management can make a major contribution to climate change mitigation;
• Deforestation of tropical forests accounts for around 17% of global carbon dioxide emissions: a failure to address this
source of emissions will significantly compromise global efforts to tackle climate change;
• Intact and healthy forests provide food, energy, water, shelter and flood protection services, reducing the vulnerability of
rural populations to climate change and enabling adaptation to climate impacts;
• Funding developing countries to maintain their forests, using already available methodologies, capacity and funds, will
offer new opportunities for generating wealth and ending poverty;
• Any agreement reached as part of the UNFCCC negotiations must respect the rights of forest dwellers and forest
dependent peoples when designing and implementing schemes, and promote sustainable development pathways that
do not involve deforestation.
1. Deforestation and the global carbon cycle
|Ginger plan in Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra|
Tropical forests and the soils beneath them provide one of the world’s largest terrestrial carbon stores but are being
degraded and deforested at the average rate of 8-15 million hectares per year. About 1.5 Gt of carbon, equivalent to 17%
of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) sources, is released due to these activities each year.
Undisturbed tropical forests provide a natural carbon capture and storage function – sequestering the equivalent of
approximately 15% (1.3 Gt) of global anthropogenic carbon emissions annually. The preservation of this free service should
be as high a priority in climate mitigation strategies as the development of expensive carbon capture and storage and
However, the capacity of this natural sink is already being compromised by climate change. Unless greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions are abated, some climate models suggest that the tropical forest sink may diminish and even reverse as
some forest areas become savanna and forest fires increase worldwide due to hotter and periodically drier environmental
conditions. Under these conditions, large quantities of stored carbon would be released into the atmosphere in a potentially
dangerous positive feedback accelerating climate change. The resilience of tropical forests to climate change would be
enhanced by action to reduce forest degradation and to maintaining large areas of primary forest.
2. The Mitigation Opportunity
G8 leaders agreed in early 2009 to limit global warming to 2 °C and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. To achieve
this ambition by 2050 will require immediate and dramatic emission reductions of around 17Gt CO2e versus business-as-
usual by 2020. The global forest sector could provide up to 7.8 GtCO2e/yr of abatement potential by 2030, primarily in
developing countries and mostly through reducing deforestation. Curbing deforestation, alongside fossil fuel mitigation,
could therefore play an important role in limiting global GHG concentrations to below 450ppm CO2e and delivering the
2 °C target.
|Deforestation in Borneo|
In the longer term, protection and restoration of the world’s forests (reforestation), as well as sustainable management
of secondary forests, can make a major contribution by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Diverse plant communities
generally take up more carbon from the atmosphere than communities consisting of just one or a few species. Restoration
(through natural or human-assisted means) of degraded ecosystems, through equitable reforestation and afforestation with
native species, can also increase sequestration.
3. Deforestation and mass extinction
Carbon is assimilated in the forest canopy and is stored in trees, roots and soils; a process that is a function of complex
biodiversity. Forty percent of global terrestrial biodiversity exists high in tropical forest canopies alone. However,
deforestation and over-exploitation in tropical regions are major contributors to the sixth global mass extinction event.
The loss of this store of genetic diversity will compromise the capacity of all life on earth to adapt to human-induced
Protecting forests is a win-win policy option, as reducing deforestation not only decreases both the rate and magnitude of
climate change, but will also mitigate biodiversity loss. This protection should include safeguards against the conversion
of natural forests to forest plantations when accounting for biodiversity, since biodiversity is still profoundly affected with
consequent effects on the flow of goods and services from these forests.
4. Ecosystem services provided by tropical forests are immense
|Dipterocarp tree in Sumatra|
Ocean acidification is a direct consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. To avoid substantial damage
to Deforestation costs an estimated $2-5 trillion per year in lost ecosystem services. Tropical forests cool the atmosphere
not only by absorbing and storing carbon but also through evaporating vast quantities of water, which form clouds that
reflect solar radiation. Water recycled in this way is delivered across immense distances providing rainfall which underpins
food and energy security, from agriculture and hydropower respectively. Deforestation could alter rainfall distribution locally
and more widely, affecting agriculture thousands of miles away. Paying for tropical forest ecosystem services represents a
major economic opportunity for developing nations. Indigenous and forest peoples, as well as community forestry, should
be the major beneficiaries of efforts to reduce deforestation and restore tropical forests through compensation schemes,
given their reliance on forest ecosystem services and their role in forest stewardship.
5. Maintaining tropical forests increases community resilience to climate change.
Biodiverse tropical forests provide important ecosystem services such as food, water, shelter, flood prevention or
mitigation, disease control and cultural wealth for rural populations. Tropical forests support the livelihoods of 1.4 billion of
the world’s poor. Recent extreme events such as droughts and floods indicate that these people are highly vulnerable to
climate change, and that maintaining tropical forests increases community resilience to climate change.
6. Technology and methodologies are available to monitor deforestation effectively.
Monitoring, reporting and verification of deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries is achievable, albeit
challenging, using existing scientific and traditional knowledge. Forest monitoring and carbon measurement methods are
ready for large scale deployment to reliably detect deforestation and measure carbon emissions, respectively. New satellite
missions will further enhance the detection of forest degradation, but further improvements in scientific infrastructure,
including earth observation systems and the development of standardized methodologies, alongside skills development of
forest communities, are required to ensure reliable, transparent and systematic measurement of deforestation.
7. Governmental subsidies and business drivers of deforestation need to be re-set.
Consumer demand in developed countries is increasingly responsible for forest loss in the tropics. Western countries, for
example by setting legal targets for the mixture of biofuels with gasoline, are driving the conversion of some tropical forests
to oil palm plantations. One outcome of such policies is a significant increase in the extent of fire-induced carbon release
through burning of peat-rich forest soils. Together, activities of these kinds lead to GHG emissions which are greater than
those arising from the use of gasoline alone. To meet climate targets, reforms will be necessary to promote the sourcing
of commodities without clearing natural forests for land and to minimize emissions from land use change. Consumer,
business, and investor driven ‘forest footprints’ should be reduced by creating demand for sustainable production and
certification of supply. Governmental subsidies which currently encourage deforestation should be re-set to stimulate
restoration of land, while providing the incentives necessary to keep forests standing. The introduction of innovations,
such as chip and barcode technology which enables commodities to be traced to their sources, will allow businesses and
consumers in developed countries to choose sustainably-produced goods. Coordinated raising of environmental standards
across sectors, in particular the prohibition of high-impact selective timber harvesting, would improve sustainability within
Through coordinated land use management, the ever increasing demands for timber, food and biofuels can be met without
the need for further deforestation. This requires coupling of forest regulation to ensure long-term sustainable low-impact
timber production, with steps designed to increase food production on previously deforested areas. All reforms should be
designed to respect the rights and needs of forest dwellers and forest dependent peoples, and implemented with their free
prior and informed consent.
8. Financing forests and climate change
Estimates from the major studies agree that emissions from tropical deforestation can be cut by 50% in 2020, at an
achievable annual cost of $15 – $35 billion. Developed countries will need to help developing countries implement
reforms as part of their move to a low-carbon development path, through a mix of public and private funding, and
with careful monitoring and review to determine the balance of the two in future. Innovative market-based financing
mechanisms should also be encouraged such as specialized funds, rainforest bonds, and insurance products, to
supplement public funding.
We, the academies of science working through the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP), call on world
1. Acknowledge that reducing deforestation is a vital and urgent part of the international community’s effort to deliver
climate change mitigation commitments by 2020 and to deliver longer term climate adaptation, poverty alleviation
and maintenance of ecosystem services provided by biodiversity. Such forest mitigation must be in addition to
reductions in fossil fuel emissions by Annex I countries.
2. Ensure that the proposed UNFCCC Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)
mechanism is a vital and integral part of the post 2012 climate framework to be agreed in Copenhagen in December
2009, including transparent and robust monitoring systems to verify emissions reductions.
3. Fund research to help target political and economic interventions – for example, on the effective cultivation of
valuable forest species – as well as encourage more cooperation on earth observation to improve the accuracy of
monitoring and evaluation of deforestation.
4. Set up an emergency funding mechanism for avoided deforestation and sustainable forest management to assist
forest-rich developing countries in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.
5. Implement land reforms and other measures to reduce deforestation, forest degradation and the drivers of
deforestation urgently as a vital component of reducing emission rates of greenhouse gases by 80% of 1990 levels
6. Engage forest dwellers and forest dependent peoples in designing and implementing deforestation and degradation
reduction schemes, including the provision of alternative rural livelihoods for those currently engaged in