|Climate, Biodiversity, and Forests - Issues and Opportunities Emerging from the Kyoto Protocol (WRI, 1998, 40 pages)|
Over the past several decades, two profound global environmental issues-biodiversity loss and climate change-have often moved in wholly unconnected domains. After all, what possible connection could there be between the fate of unknown species in the Amazon rainforest and emissions of carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants in industrialized countries?
A great deal, as we now know. At the first level, climate change is a major threat to efforts to conserve biodiversity. Some species already on the verge of extinction could be pushed over the edge as their habitats disappear because of climatic changes. More drought and floods that may be influenced by climate change will also make communities struggling to improve their livelihoods even more vulnerable. Another area where these two issues strongly intersect is in the carbon stored in the world's forests and other natural ecosystems. When forests are burned or otherwise destroyed, carbon is released into the atmosphere. For every forest or other ecosystem that is spared this fate, carbon is stored and kept out of the atmosphere. While energy sector emissions are the predominant contributor, forest conversion is also a significant part of the climate change problem, contributing some 20 percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions and, over the past 150 years, an estimated 30 percent of the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide.
In much of the world, far more forests are being lost than protected. This is bad news for climate change, and worse news for the world's biological resources. As a very rough guess, there are perhaps 14 million species in the world. At least 50 percent of these species may reside in tropical forests; some are restricted to a single patch of trees. Once the trees are gone, these species are gone forever. The rapid loss of forests thus is doubly damaging, adding to the global burden of atmospheric carbon dioxide and undermining the world's biological resources, which in turn reduces the resilience of ecosystems faced with a changing climate.
Can the world community respond to these dire threats to the global environment? The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention on Climate Change is a key step towards the mitigation of climate change-it was the first international agreement to place legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries. Although the Protocol significantly advanced the cause of climate protection, it left many questions unanswered, including the role of forests and land-use change in meeting obligations to slow global warming. Just as the negative effects on biological diversity of global warming and deforestation reinforce each other, there are considerable positive synergies between reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stepping up efforts to conserve forests. As the Conference of the Parties prepares to tackle these questions, this report offers timely insight into the potential of forests to advance both climate and biodiversity goals throughout the world.
Climate, Biodiversity, and Forests: Issues and Opportunities Emerging from the Kyoto Protocol examines why the role of forests and land-use change under the Kyoto Protocol remains controversial and attempts to clarify and separate the issues. For example, some perceive forests and land-use change as a distraction from reducing energy-related emissions, while others fear that greenhouse gas fluxes from forests and land-use change cannot be credibly quantified. It will require further research and careful construction of mechanisms created by the Protocol to resolve these issues and ensure that the treatment of forests and land-use change is consistent with credible greenhouse reductions and biodiversity and social benefits.
Without a much stronger commitment to solving climate change and biodiversity loss, we will bequeath to our children and grandchildren an irretrievably impoverished world. Such a fate can be avoided, but it requires a strong international commitment and concerted action. We hope this report helps to encourage such action.
We would like to express our gratitude to the AVINA Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the United States Agency for International Development, whose support has made this work possible.
World Resources Institute
IUCN-The World Conservation Union