January 16, 2009

Disappearing forests: the world’s biggest emitter

Do you think that driving your kids to school in a 4×4 is bad for the environment? Well, you should take a look at what’s happening in Indonesia ! That’s right, Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the US and China, and closely followed by Brazil.World’s biggest carbon emitters (including deforestation)

(1) UNITED STATES: 6 billion tonnes CO2 per year

(2) CHINA: 5 billion tonnes

(3) INDONESIA: 2.6 billion tonnes


What makes Indonesia and Brazil such big emitters? People are cutting down tropical forests in order to profit better from their land. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere throughout their growing life. When trees are logged and burned or left to decay, they release this carbon back into the atmosphere. Some trees also go up in smoke in annual forest fires.Deforestation causes more emissions than all forms of transport combined, in fact it now accounts for about 25% of global man made emissions.Deforestation occurs largely because it is not economical to keep the land forested – you can make more money by cutting down the trees and doing something else with the land. Usually, this means producing palm oil for biofuels, or some other form of farming.


Conserving a rain forest isn’t just catchy and cool, it its the most efficient way to slow global warming, at $20 per tonne of carbon saved. In 2005 the UN launched an initiative called RED (reducing emissions from deforestation), acknowledged by conservation biologists as one of the most effective programmes for carbon reduction.The main ways to slow deforestation are:

                        Prevent forest fires

                        Stop mass clearing forests where land is unsuitable for agriculture.

                        Harvest the trees and turn them into long-lived products (such as furniture) so that they don’t decay or burn, with new trees being planted in their place.

                        Provide forest owners with carbon emission offsets for not logging their land.


The last of these is controversial. If I pay a landowner or farmer to do nothing with his land, is he taking the mickey or saving the world? Which projects are ‘additional’ ? If I had not paid the money, would the landowner have been pushed to chop down the trees, or were they going to stay there anyway?And what can we do sitting here in our comfortable homes?

                        Buy wood products made from sustainable forests. OK, ’sustainable’ is a buzzword. What it should mean is that the trees are replanted.

                        Support carbon neutral companies, provided that the carbon credits are certified by a highly respected firm. Yes, there are high quality as well as dodgy carbon credits.

                        Go do some voluntary work in the Amazon, or in Indonesia. Figure out for yourself how logging can really be prevented. For this one, I would recommend VSO.

                        Support forest protection programmes in small way and directly, through charitable sites such as http://www.globalgiving.co.uk/