Sunday, January 13, 2008

Deforestation - How The World Is Losing its Cool

"Over the past 150 years, deforestation has contributed an estimated 30 percent of the atmospheric build-up of CO2. It is also a significant driving force behind the loss of genes, species and critical ecosystem services." - Climate, Biodiversity and Forests, World Resources Institute, 1998

From Indonesia to central Africa to the Amazon basin, the world's great forests, fueled by an insatiable demand for timber, are being lost at an alarming rate. Imagine losing forests the combined size of England, Scotland and Wales - about 20 million hectares - every year, with more than half being pristine primary forests and releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Accounting for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the vehicles in the world, deforestation is a major contributor to global warming and accounts for about 20 per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions. It is also the leading cause of loss in biodiversity and extinction of many species.
Deforestation in Indonesia
In Indonesia, second only to Brazil in terrestrial biodiversity, forests the size of the state of Maryland in the US are being lost every year - much of it from illegal logging - making it the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, after US and China. Between 1997 and 1998, large scale slash-and-burn in Sumatra and Kalimantan resulted in the loss of more than 5 million hectares of pristine rainforests, and the ancient Paradise Forests in Papua New Guinea are being destroyed faster than any other forest on the planet.

Indonesia is, in fact, the world's fastest forest destroyer. According to Greenpeace, between 2000 and 2005, an area of forest equivalent to 300 soccer pitches was destroyed every hour. At this rate, the country's 133.5 million ha of forests will disappear within 47 years, along with many rare plants and animals unique to the archipelago.

Deforestation in Amazon
Alarming deforestation, for timber and land for cattle ranching, is also occurring in Brazil - home to the Amazon basin which contains the planet's largest tropical rainforest. About a fifth of Amazon's forests has already been destroyed with the forests in the state of Parana almost completely cleared by the middle of the 20th century, a duration taking less than 30 years.

"Our recent report indicates that 60 per cent of the Amazon's forests could be gone by 2030, releasing billion of ton
s of CO2 to the atmosphere, with major contributions to global warming", said Dr. Meg Symington, WWF's priority leader for the Amazon. As a result, about 75 per cent of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and forest fires - mainly in the Amazon - making it the fourth largest climate polluter in the world.

Deforestation in Africa
In Africa, approximately 150 million acres of forests were lost between 1980 and 1995. According to World Wildlife Federation, West Africa had around 500,000 sq. km of coastal rainforests at the turn of the century but by 1997, only 22.8 per cent of West Africa's moist rainforests remain. Largely depleted by commercial exploitation - logging and conversion for agriculture - Africa is now losing forests at an estimated rate of 9 million acres each year. In Madagascar, an island off the southeast of Africa, only about 10 percent of its lush forest remains.

Similiar large scale destruction of our planet's forests can be also be found in China, Vietnam, Philippines and Ecuador.

Pristine rainforest
Often described as the Earth's lungs, forests are natural carbon sinks, soaking up and sequestrating CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen during photosynthesis but the unprecedented scale of deforestation in recent years had led to the release of millions of tons of carbon dioxide from decaying plants and trees, leading to higher worldwide temperatures.

Besides contributing to higher worldwide temperatures, deforestation also has other environmental implications. As forests play an important role in regulating and stabilising the world's climate, the unabated deforestation has led to disruption in rainfall patterns, altering natural water cycles, soil erosion - through the loss of forest canopies which reduces the impact of rainfall on soil - and catastrophic flooding.

Indonesia's slash-and-burn technique of forests clearing during the 90s' had also caused widespread pollution in South East Asia. The haze from these fires blanketed much of neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Singapore and even northern Australia, risking the health of millions of people and causing an estimated loss of US$4 billion in tourism revenue.

Deforestation is the leading cause of the loss of ecosystems, disappearance of numerous indigenous people and cultures, and the extinction of some of the rarest plants and animals on the planet. This unsustainable exploitation of nature is detrimental to both biodiversity and mankind, and unless actions are taken to halt deforestation and recognise the natural value of these ancient forests, they would virtually disappear as functioning ecosystems, resulting in the loss of a legacy that took thousands of years to form.

*Sources :
- Greenpeace
- World Wildlife Federation
- The Nature Conservancy
- Rainforest Action Network
- Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, United Nations
- Climate, Biodiversity and Forests, World Resources Institute

*Related post : Man & The Loss Of Biodiversity

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