|Nature Canada Editorial:
Hot Air, Cool Trees
Canadians are talking a lot about carbon emissions trading, carbon offsets and other things that few people had even heard about just a few short years ago. These measures, done properly, could all be legitimate solutions to the fight against climate change.
The purchase of international carbon credits through the Kyoto Protocol, in particular, can be an effective, legitimate use of Canadian funds to address the critical challenges of climate change while delivering other significant environmental and economic benefits.
But in all this talk, we are missing one of our most important allies in the global warming battle: Trees.
Nature Canada and other conservation organizations believe that forests should 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 $93.2 billion annually.
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan determined that our national parks have sequestered more than 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon worth $72 billion to $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 currently sets limits to tropical deforestation. However, in 2005 a group of developing countries, called the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, proposed that developing countries commit to limiting tropical deforestation. Nature Canada welcomes their proposal.
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.
This opinion article first appeared in the Toronto Star March 16, 2007. Mara Kerry is the director of conservation at Nature Canada.