As the world’s forested area contracts, the carbon-storage capacity of the planet also decreases. Between 1990 and 2005, for example, the planet’s carbon-storage capacity declined because more than 5 percent of forests disappeared during that time. By the end of 2005, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations proposed that nations be paid to leave their forests standing because the worth of the stored carbon exceeded the worth of timber from the same trees. Kevin Conrad, a resident of Papua New Guinea (where forests are critically threatened), spoke to the United Nations in 2007 on the topic of deforestation, emissions, and global warming. “I think collectively we as humanity have become more mature in this climate battle, and we understood collectively that we’ve got to turn off all the emission sources in order to win,” Conrad said. “The climate doesn’t know whether it came from a factory or from Papua New Guinea’s deforestation. If we can deliver sustainable revenues to communities living in rural areas of tropical countries that are deforesting simply to exist, then we have sort of a win-win proposition.” Halting deforestation may be the cheapest way to slow global warming.
In 2007 the U.S. government’s Climate Change Science Program released “The North American Carbon Budget and Implications for the Global Carbon Cycle” report, which concluded that the remaining North American forests could no longer remove the amount of carbon emissions produced each year. According to the report, the North American continent accounts for 27 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the world, and the disparity between emissions and forests’ capacity to reduce the carbon is getting larger. The report’s authors stated, “Carbon absorption by vegetation, primarily in the form of forest growth, is expected to decline as maturing forests grow more slowly and take up less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” Christopher B. Field of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology added, “By burning fossil fuel and clearing forests, human beings have significantly altered the global carbon cycle.”
People cannot ignore the connections that nature has established between forests, the cycling of elements, and the planet’s climate. People in forested regions of the world that are also beset by poverty need compensation if they agree to save trees. Even making deforestation illegal may not completely solve the problem. Desperate loggers may leave their land alone but sneak into other areas to continue harvesting wood. Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s Minister of Environment, told the Associated Press in 2007 that heavily forested countries such as his own, Brazil, and Costa Rica must receive compensation for avoiding the deforestation of their lands, or else any plan to slow carbon emissions would not work. “Our view is that we can combat climate change by maintaining the health of our forests and for that we need funding. This is a matter of justice.” Carbon payments to farmers might need official monitoring to ensure that farmers who receive payments refrain from logging forests anyway. In the deep Amazon and Congo basins, monitoring would not be an easy matter, and this highlights the challenges that come with protecting the forest biome.
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