The destruction of tropical forests is now projected to be much worse for the climate than previously thought.
Greenhouse gas emissions from damage to tropical forests are about six times higher than initially believed, researchers report in a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
“Our analysis considers all impacts such as the effects of selective logging, forgone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction,” study author Sean Maxwell said in a statement. “We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”
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The study looked at carbon emissions from the loss of intact tropical forests from 2000 to 2013. They attributed the spike in emission numbers to factoring in long-term effects, including the loss of wildlife.
While efforts to stop deforestation are typically focused on the areas where damage is already occurring, this study suggests it could be six times more beneficial to protect forests where degradation hasn’t started.
“Our results revealed that continued destruction of intact tropical forests is a ticking time bomb for carbon emissions,” Maxwell said. “There is an urgent need to safeguard these landscapes because they play an indispensable role in stabilizing the climate.”
But the study authors said that preserving intact tropical forests rarely gets the funding or attention that damaged areas get. They said they hope their research will pave the way for more funding to protect and expand intact tropical forests.
Local communities and indigenous peoples will play a critical role in forest conservation, according to Maxwell.
“Intact forests are often critical to the material and spiritual aspects of traditional cultures,” Maxwell said. “Strengthening the land tenure of Indigenous and traditional peoples is a powerful way to protect intact forests.”