Reducing Deforestation in the Tropics will Lower Emission of Carbon by One-Fifth

First Posted: Jun 07, 2014 03:41 AM EDT

The emission of atmospheric carbon dioxide can be lowered by preventing deforestation in the tropics, a new study states.

Tropical forests are a key element in our planet's carbon cycle. Studies have also highlighted that the amount of carbon lost from the tropical forests is being underestimated. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh  calculated the rate at which carbon is absorbed by the world's tropical forests and also the rate at which the greenhouse gases are emitted due to the loss of trees as a result of human activity.  

Edinburgh scientists together with Leeds university researchers analysed the data from various studies conducted earlier including satellite studies and determined the amount of carbon absorbed as well emitted by world's tropical forests in South and Central America, equatorial Africa and Asia.

The researchers calculated that yearly nearly two billion tonnes of carbon was being absorbed by the tropical forests.  The amount of carbon absorbed was equal to one-fifth of the carbon emission. They found that saving trees in the tropics helps lower emission of atmospheric carbon by one-fifth.

It was also seen that the same amount of carbon dioxide was either lost or released through logging, clearing land for grazing and increase in the growth of biofuel crops that include palm oil, soya bean and sugar.  Apart from this, even peat fires in the forest further contribute to the emission of gases.

The researchers say reducing the rate of human-related deforestation of the tropics would increase the absorption of carbon. Further as the climate warms, the emission of carbon from the tropics would rise.  Increasing temperatures would further double the decay of dead plants and tress emitting excessive carbon dioxide.

It is estimated that by the year 2099, the global temperatures will rise by 2 degrees and this is predicted to increase annual carbon emissions from the forests by almost three quarters of a billion tonnes.

Professor John Grace of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said, "If we limit human activity in the tropical forests of the world, this could play a valuable role in helping to curb the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Preventing further losses of carbon from our tropical forests must remain a high priority."

The study was documented in Global Change Biology.

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