Deforestation is the process of reducing forested areas to make way for non-forest uses of the land.
Forests are vast collections of carbon, stored both in the trees themselves and in the soil and leaf-litter surrounding them.
This is why reforestation can sequester carbon emissions (CO2) to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thereby reduce the greenhouse effect.
Burning forests to clear land for agriculture, or logging the forests for valuable timber, causes the carbon dioxide stored in the trees to be released into the atmosphere.
As a result, deforestation contributes around 17.5% of total CO2 emissions globally. Avoiding tropical deforestation could prevent up to 20% of carbon dioxide emissions and protect biodiversity.
Not only does deforestation contribute to climate change, forests are also damaged by global warming, meaning that deforestation is a positive feedback loop.
As global warming increases average temperatures, forested areas dry out. This leads to desertification of forested areas, reducing the carbon-absorbing capacity of the land, and thereby accelerating the pace of climate change.
Forest fires also increase as the climate becomes hotter and dryer. UN reports show that the severity of large forest fires has increased by 10% in the United States and up to 118% more land is burnt annually in Canada as a result of global warming. Forest fires release the CO2 stored by the trees into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect.
The majority of remaining forests are located in developing countries. Indonesia, Cambodia, Guatemala and Sri Lanka possess the dubious title of the world’s fastest logging nations.
Timber production from forests provide many developing economies with a significant portion of export revenue for many of these low-income nations. Indeed, deforestation can be seen as a consequence of underdevelopment.
Recently more attention has been given to the problem of developing country dependence on timber exports. For instance, in 2008 the United Nations (UN) launched a Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) program.
This is an is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands by incorporating forests into in economic solutions to climate change, such as carbon trading systems.
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Mongabay, ‘Country Forest Data [sorted by region]’,http://www.mongabay.com/deforestation_rate_tables.htm
Richard Wainwright, Saskia Ozinga, et. al., ‘From green ideals to REDD money’, November 2008, http://www.redd-monitor.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/document_4316_4321.pdf