Deforestation emissions could be halved by 2020, researchers say


Satellite photograph of deforestation in progress in the Tierras Bajas project in eastern Bolivia. Public Domain: NASA, 2001.

Satellite photograph of deforestation in the Tierras Bajas project, Bolivia. Public Domain: NASA, 2001.

Emissions from tropical deforestation could be reduced by 50% in the next five years, according to new research.

In a study, published on Monday in the journal Global Change Biology, reserchers outlined different scenarios for how major reductions to current deforestation rates can be made, saving up to 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions.

Daniel Zarin, lead author and director of programs at the US-based Climate and Land Use Alliance told BusinessGreen that the reductions are “very much doable”, but require a major push from countries who have committed to cutting their deforestation rates, support from the international community, and strong business leadership.

He said:

[I]t does certainly require the leadership of the business community, to go beyond the commitments that have been made by some companies to a wider mainstreaming of no-deforestation commitments.

Getting that new way of doing business that really recognises that businesses are responsible for the impacts – positive and negative – of their enterprise, is something that needs to be taken up in a mainstream way across businesses.

Brazil has made progress, other countries fail to follow lead

The two countries currently ranking highest for deforestation emissions are Brazil and Indonesia.

Brazil has made considerable progress by reducing its tropical deforestation emissions from 1.8 gigatonnes (GT) in 2003 to 0.4 GT in 2012. Its percentage of global deforestation emissions has fallen from a peak of 69% in 2003 to 20% in 2012.

At the same time, other tropical countries have been struggling to follow Brazil’s lead and offset most of the country’s emission savings through increased deforestation rates.

Indonesia only peaked its emissions in 2012, and they are likely to rise again this year following the devastating forest fires of recent months.

However, the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), signed last year by Indonesia and 14 other tropical countries, includes a goal to halve natural forest loss by 2020.

The study also highlights the possibility of progress in the Indonesian government’s reaction to the forest fires, with measures such as a moratorium on new peat and primary forest licences, and a major peatland restoration effort to avoid future fires.

Two scenarios to halve emissions

In order to calculate the potential emissions cuts from decreased deforestation, the paper collected new satellite-based data of tropical forests to calculate the average emissions per year from deforestation between 2001 and 2013.

It then set out two scenarios to meeting the goal of halving emissions by 2020, from 2.3 GT today to 1.15 GT in 2020.

In the first scenario, Brazil makes no further reductions in the rate of deforestation, and the countries signed up to the NYDF fulfil their pledge and cut deforestation emissions in half, while the remaining 86 tropical forest countries then reduce their collective emissions by 35%.

In the second scenario, Brazil reduces its deforestation emissions even further than 2012 levels, NYDF countries halve their deforestation emissions and the remaining 86 tropical forest countries reduce their deforestation emissions by 4%.

A statement by Tasso Azevedo, a co-author of the study and a forest and climate change expert, said:

The first scenario is a lot harder for a lot of the world’s poorest countries to achieve. The second scenario is very plausible for Brazil. We need to build on the success of the past decade and really capitalize on the huge potential to intensify agricultural production on lands that have already been cleared rather than cutting down forests. Brazilian scientists know how to do this.

Zarin argues that along with effective government and corporation action, more still needs to be done to incentivise the conservation of forests through a combination of public and private investment:

What seems to be missing, and where there is certainly room for additional work, is in the public private partnership space, where new, green investments in sustainable agricultural production can be linked to government policy to constrain expansion into forested areas.

It’s a very important area where the private sector role and the financial community may be able to begin to look at very positive investments around a combination of both producing more food and conserving forests.

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