Deforestation vs Degradation: Underestimating Tropical Forest Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs often focus on the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities that lead to tropical deforestation. However, according to a new study published last week in Carbon Balance and Management, policy makers have failed to address the significant levels of carbon dioxide emissions caused by rainforest degradation, which amount to one-third of the emissions arising from deforestation and are five times greater than total emissions from the global aviation sector. For a third of the countries studied, emissions from degradation were even higher than those from deforestation.

Until now, the contribution of forest degradation to overall forest carbon emissions has been largely unknown. This is the first study to comprehensively quantify the major sources of forest degradation, and the results suggest that emissions from degradation of tropical forests comprise a quarter of the combined emissions from degradation and deforestation — a much higher proportion than the researchers expected.

“Forest degradation is a significant emission source that is currently in many places overlooked,” Timothy Pearson, lead author of the study and director of Arkansas-based non-profit Winrock International’s Ecosystem Services Unit, told Mongabay. “The estimate is likely conservative because, as we state, it does not include illegal logging, which by most estimates is highly significant.”

Joseph King


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