Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thomas Lovejoy - Forests Key to Climate Change Battle

Our friends in the wonderful land Down Under - a country that I visited while studying abroad, and that I can't wait to get back to - have published an outstanding article by eminent ecologist, Tom Lovejoy on the importance of forests to the battle to combat climate change.

As Lovejoy notes, "approximately 23 per cent of greenhouse gases accumulating in the last analysed year came from deforestation and biomass burning. When those gases are counted in, Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter and Brazil the fourth."

He advocates stepping up of carbon trading around the world to create incentives that encourage not just forest planting and replanting (which are all that is included in the current version of the Kyoto treaty), but outright conservation to avoid deforestation:

The details of course will be important, such as mechanisms to actually get the financial incentives to the right places, especially the communities in the forested regions that deserve reward for forest protection.

With climate change accelerating faster than predicted, he emphasizes that we have little time to spare:

A careful balance between being careful and thoughtful about details and implementation, vs losing precious time through ponderous bureaucratic procedure, will also be key.

Also crucial to dealing with climate change, he adds, is "the management of nature to ease the adaptation to the climate change already taking place."

Ripples of change are being detected in nature worldwide in response to the 0.7 degrees C warming that has already occurred. Plants and animals are on the move, threshold changes are occurring in some ecosystems, and the seas are already 30 per cent more acidic (affecting organisms with calcium carbonate shells).

We know an equal amount of climate change will occur just from existing greenhouse gas concentrations and the lag in climate response. The ripples of change in nature will be succeeded by the shaking of the very biological underpinnings of human civilisation.

There are two ways to minimise impact: one is to reduce other stresses on natural ecosystems such as pollution and invasive species, and the second is to assure natural connections in the landscape so organisms can move freely in seeking required conditions in a changing world. Without the latter the landscape represents an obstacle course to such movement.

With climate change's impacts increasingly rippling from environment to economy to health and security, we have little time to spare.

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