Reducing deforestation in the tropics would significantly cut the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere – by as much as one-fifth – research shows.
In the first study of its kind, scientists have calculated the amount of carbon absorbed by the worlds tropical forests and the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions created by loss of trees, as a result of human activity.
Scientists from the Universities of Leeds and Edinburgh analysed data from multiple previous studies, including satellite studies, to determine the amount of carbon absorbed and emitted by the worlds tropical forests in South and Central America, equatorial Africa and Asia.
Forest census data from an Amazon-wide network of forest plots, maintained by the Universities of Leeds and Oxford, played a critical part in the analysis, said Professor Emanuel Gloor, a co-author of the study from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds.
The researchers found that tropical forests absorb almost two billion tonnes of carbon each year, equivalent to one-fifth of the worlds carbon emissions, by storing it in their bark, leaves and soil. However, an equivalent amount is lost through logging, clearing of land for grazing, and growing biofuel crops such as palm oil, soya bean and sugar. Peat fires in forests add significantly to the greenhouse gas emissions.
Researchers say emissions from tropical forests will increase as the climate warms, as rising temperatures accelerate the decay of dead plants and trees, giving off more carbon dioxide. Global temperatures are forecast to rise by two degrees by the year 2099, which is predicted to increase annual carbon emissions from the forest by three-quarters of a billion tonnes.
Professor John Grace of the University of Edinburghs School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said: If we limit human activity in the tropical forests of the world, this could play a valuable role in helping to curb the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Preventing further losses of carbon from our tropical forests must remain a high priority.
The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council.
The research paper, Perturbations in the carbon budget of the tropics, was published in the journal Global Change Biology on 6 June 2014.
To interview Professor Emanuel Gloor, please contact Sarah Reed, Press Officer, University of Leeds on 0113 34 34196 or email firstname.lastname@example.org