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Climate emissions from tropical forest damage 'underestimated by a factor of six'

(The Guardian, 31 Oct 2019) Scientists say policymakers must better account for climate impacts of damage to forests, and benefits of conserving them.

Greenhouse gas emissions caused by damage to tropical rainforests around the world are being underestimated by a factor of six, according to a new study.

Research led by the University of Queensland finds the climate impact of selective logging, outright clearing and fire in tropical rainforests between 2000 and 2013 was underestimated by 6.53bn tonnes of CO2.

The numbers are likely conservative, and also did not include emissions from other woodlands or the massive boreal forests in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

Study co-author professor James Watson of the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society said: “We have been treating forests as pretty one-dimensional, but we know degradation impacts carbon. The bottom line is that we knew the numbers would be big, but we were shocked at just how big.”

Watson said the numbers used for tropical rainforests were “conservative”, adding, “this is a carbon time bomb and policymakers have to get to grips with this”.

When countries declare greenhouse gas emissions from changes in forests, they do not account for the CO2 that forests would have continued to soak up for decades had they not been cleared or damaged. This is a measure known as “forgone removal”.

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The Guardian, 31 Oct 2019: Climate emissions from tropical forest damage 'underestimated by a factor of six'