The impact of losing intact tropical forests is more devastating to the climate than scientists had previously thought.
According to the international research led by the University of Queensland (UQ), Australia, between 2000 and 2013 the clearance of intact tropical forests resulted in much higher level of carbon being emitted to the atmosphere than expected. The clearing resulting in a 626% increase in the calculated impact on the climate.
Conservation scientist from UQ, Dr Sean Maxwell highlighted that this difference equated to two years of global land-use change and was previously unaccounted due to a lack of full carbon observation.
“Usually only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” Dr Maxwell said.
“Our analysis considers all impacts such as the effects of selective logging, forgone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.
“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”
By analysing maps of intact forest clearings across the tropics between 2000 and 2013, the researchers calculated the areas’ pulse emissions and simulated the impact of previously unrecorded factors.
“We could see where selective logging was occurring based on where new roads have been built, the extent of new forest edges based on where deforestation had recently occurred, and the loss of large seed-dispersing animals due to them becoming more susceptible to hunting,” Dr Maxwell said.
“The team then estimated the amount of carbon that these processes will release into the atmosphere between 2013 and 2050, labelling it ‘committed emissions’.
“By comparing ‘pulse’ and ‘committed emissions’ with what these forests could have removed from the atmosphere if they’d remained intact until 2050, we determined the real impacts of deforestation.”
UQ and Wildlife Conservation Society’s Professor James Watson said:”Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626 per cent greater than expected is terrifying.”