Blog Action Day: Hot Air, Cool Trees

Canadians are talking a lot about climate change these days in the lead up to the UNFCCC meetings in Copenhagen in December. These are of international importance and will set the global stage for future targets and actions to address a changing climate. Leading up to Copenhagen we must be sure to include one of our most important allies in the global warming battle: trees.

Nature Canada and other conservation organizations believe that forests play a bigger role in our strategy to stop climate change. Their role in the regulation of climate is both important and unique – trees are victims of global warming, contributors to global warming, and a crucial part of the solution to global warming.

Most of the increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations come from the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy, but few realize that about 25% of all global emissions come from deforestation and changes in land use like the clearing of forests and the cultivation of soils for food production. The carbon stored in trees and soils is released to the atmosphere when forests are cleared and cultivated. When forests regrow, they take back carbon from the atmosphere and store it again in trees and soils.

Canada can use Kyoto and other mechanisms to encourage the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in forests, forest products, and soils. Even further, by protecting existing forests and making better land management decisions we can conserve and enhance existing carbon stores and prevent future GHG emissions.

This path to reducing GHG emissions has other significant benefits. Forests, grasslands, wetlands and other natural ecosystems provide billions of dollars in ecological goods and services – clean air and water, productive soils, forests and oceans, genetic resources for food and pharmaceuticals, pest and disease control, to name just a few. Forested ecosystems around the world are home to 70 percent of the world’s plants and animals — more than 13 million distinct species. According to the Canadian Boreal Initiative, Canada’s boreal forest alone provides ecosystem services estimated at $703 billion annually. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan determined that our national parks have sequestered over 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon worth $72-78 billion.

Most of the world’s biodiversity is found in tropical forests. Roughly 7.3 million hectares of forest are being lost annually to deforestation according to the 2007 State of the World’s Forests report, exacerbating global warming and speeding the extinction rates of countless species.

At present, neither the Climate Change Convention nor the Kyoto Protocol require countries to account for green house gas emissions caused by forest clear cutting or wetland destruction. Under the current global climate change agreement, countries may elect to continue these practices without any penalty and with no incentive for change. In some cases countries can even use loopholes to get credit for doing harm to forests and wetlands.

In 2005, a group of developing countries called the Coalition for Rainforest Nations proposed that developing countries commit to limiting tropical deforestation. This proposal is referred to as REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation). Nature Canada welcomes their proposal as a way to address climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

Climate change is the most dramatic symptom of our unsustainable approach to development. As Canadians, we have a unique opportunity to address climate change by protecting forests. We should complete the national system of protected areas. We should support the establishment of protected areas in developing countries where most of the world’s biodiversity is found. We can also improve land and forest management, and develop land-use plans that recognize the huge contribution these forests make to global carbon cycles and the many other benefits they provide.

We need to ensure that we make forests count in Copenhagen. By taking this opportunity to increase incentives for protecting Earth’s remaining wilderness ecosystems, humans will help to reduce the speed of climate change. We’ll also improve prospects for the estimated 30% of wild species estimated to go extinct if human-induced global warming is not curbed.

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