Rainforests and climate change: the facts

Joe Ronan

Joe Ronan

Rainforests in Malaysia

If tropical deforestation was a country, it would rank third in global CO2 emissions. This is a startling statistic.

We all know that deforestation is ‘bad’ – but what exactly is it that ties the rainforests so closely to climate change?

Today we’re going to answer that question.

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Re-centering the Rainforests 

The rainforests are important for us here at One Tribe. We are partnered with the Rainforest Trust and believe in climate action that protects the rainforest. Furthermore, we want the answer to the question, ‘where are tropical rainforests protected?’The answer,  ‘right at the heart of climate action.’  

However, the rainforests clearly don’t dominate the climate conversation like they once did. Within climate discourse, single-use plastics have become the ‘hot topic.’ After the hit success ‘Seaspiracy,’ so too have the oceans. 

Nevertheless, rainforests remain absolutely essential. In fact, if we cannot halt deforestation from occurring at the present rate, it will be practically impossible to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius. Never mind the 1.5C the Paris Agreement expressed a preference for. 

As the IPCC Global Warming of 1.5C report makes clear, we cannot afford to be complacent in achieving that target. Clearly, without arresting the stark decline of the rainforests, we’re in trouble.  

Amazon-rainforest burning

Tree cover loss in the tropics 

Tree cover loss in tropical rainforests is now causing more emissions every year than 85 million cars would over their entire lifetime. 

The rainforests, then, are not a problem we have solved. This is particularly true given that we have Bolsonaro ramping up rainforest destruction to new-found levels of ignorance and idiocy.  

As World Resources Institute data reveals, many countries are moving in the wrong direction to fulfill the goals agreed at the Paris Agreement. Average emissions from 2015 through 2017 were 63 percent higher than the average over the 14 years prior. 

Across all the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) agreed at Paris, forests represent a quarter of all planned emission reductions by 2030. And yet still deforestation continues; change is not happening swiftly enough.

Tropical Deforestation Chart

Rainforests and Cooling

But why are these tropical forests so important?

Well, firstly, carbon stored in trees makes halting the destruction of rainforests a priority for those fighting to halt global warming. About one-fifth of all carbon in the earth’s biosphere is stored in plants.

Secondly, forests also hold a great deal of cooling power – estimated at more than 2 air conditioning units per tree (the cooling equivalent of 70 kilowatt-hours of electricity).

Rainforests regulate local climates by shading the ground and transpiring water. Soil that is relentlessly exposed to the sun can quickly degrade, further threatening biodiversity. Without this protection, entire rainforest microclimates can be unbalanced.

It’s because of this that deforestation can increase local air temperatures in tropical and temperate zones by 1C, and increase variation by almost 2C. These hotter, more unstable temperature patterns have the potential to tip rainforests over the edge. 

The Tipping Point

We often hear about ‘tipping points’ regarding climate change. There is a point of no return once we reach a certain level of destruction. It’s no different with our forests. 

Take Amazon, for instance. As habitat destruction interacts with broader global warming, the concern is that the Amazon will be caught up in a set of “feedback loops” that drive the rainforest past the point of no return. 

When Amazonian forests die they are replaced by fire-prone brush and savanna. Heating then reduces rainfall in the region, which only exacerbates the problem. Once this stage is reached the decline will be final.

The Amazon Rainforest is on fire

Rainforests: The Solution

Recent research, once more from the World Resources Institute, states that 8 percent of global emissions currently come from tree cover loss in rainforests. However, these same forests also potentially provide 23 percent of the most cost-effective climate mitigation needed before 2030. 

So, the destruction of the rainforest is a disaster, no doubt about it. It’s a stain on our planet. But, and this is cause for hope, the rainforest also provides us with a potential solution. This is why we have to protect what rainforest we have.

Climate Mitigation

They call this process of protecting what we have ‘climate mitigation.’ Climate mitigation basically refers to the ways in which we can use already existing resources to halt climate change.

Protecting the rainforests is a good example. About 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be mitigated annually through the management, protection, and restoration of tropical forests, mangroves, and peatlands.

That’s equivalent to the total annual carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions of Russia, the European Union, and Japan combined.

Avoiding deforestation and the associated soil degradation, and the carbon release and resulting global warming that comes with it is not just a defensive strategy. It is an essential part of hitting the 2030 targets. 

Destroyed Rainforests are A Resource We Cannot Afford to Lose

Changing the Picture

This is what One Tribe means when we talk of ‘re-centering.’ Our partnership with the Rainforest Trust, and our fantastic associated brands, is about addressing this ridiculous funding imbalance, stopping deforestation 

The rainforest is one of our greatest natural resources It is the rainforest that mediates climate change, as well as sequestering and storing carbon. This great resource is being threatened by climate change. But, it turns out, protecting the rainforest is the best way to protect the rainforest! Which is good news for all.  

To reach global climate goals, it’s critical that national and local actors alike double down on the proven strategy of reducing deforestation. That’s the way to mitigate climate change.

We need the rainforests, and they need us.

Together we can turn the tide, stopping tropical deforestation.

Together we can fund the protection of them. 

The rainforests are the planet’s lungs. Let’s protect them today. 

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