Policies affecting forests need to change now

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The world’s forests are ecological miracles – they must not be allowed to vanish.

A special report in the economist highlights the varied ways we all depend on forest ecosystems and calls for governments to prize forests more highly than they do now.

The reports’ author James Astill outlines the many ways that these ecological miracles are needed.

Forests emit oxygen through photosynthesis – a fact known since 1774 when a British chemist found a mouse trapped inside a jar with a plant. Through the same process they also store carbon. Until the 1960′s deforestation accounted for most historic man-made carbon emissions. This contribution is still large and accounts for more than the carbon emmissions from the world’s transport.

Recent evidence also points to a process known as carbon fertilisation, where old-growth forests are using the now carbon-heavy atmosphere to suck up even more carbon than previously. Worldwide, forests and their soils absorb around 25% of all carbon emissions.

Of course, forests also house an amazing amount of biodiversity.
They are also the source of many staple foods and modern medicines and provide livelihoods for around 400m of the world’s poorest people.

Forests also make rain and regulate water run-off. Deforestation can result in less precipitation with adverse affects for agriculture. On hydrological grounds alone, says Astill, conserving forests is essential.

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) report that 31% of the Earth’s land surface is covered in forest, with only 1/3 of this being primary forest – the rest is seriously degraded. Almost 50% of remaining forest is in the tropics, and 1/3 of that is in Brazil. Another 1/3 of the remaining forest is in the far northern hemisphere (Russia, Scandinavia, Canada), with only 11% in the temperate zone.

Brazil and Indonesia have showed a slow down in deforestation rates but Atill feels that such declines tend to be exaggerated and insufficient. This is because climate change will change forest areas – with Finland’s forests predicted to grow 44% faster due to permafrost thaws. Other forests will die due to drought, pests, fires and increased acidity. Recent modelling suggests that half the Amazon could be lost by 2100 due to climate change and deforestation.

Astill also cites population increases as the other major threat to forests as demand for land increases.

Astill calls for policies at every level to be changed as the cost of the forests’ destruction would be too great.

The full report can be found here.

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