A key aspect of the international climate change agreement slated to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 focuses on reducing carbon emissions due to deforestation and degradation (REDD). But most REDD discussions focus on tropical deforestation while ignoring the potential carbon savings that could be realized from reduced forest degradation.
Botanist Francis Putz and colleagues argue that by ignoring evidence that better forest management practices can substantially reduce carbon emissions, negotiators are missing an obvious and cost-effective approach to mitigating the effects of global climate change. This oversight is troublesome, the authors write, because "carbon losses due to degradation could be of the same magnitude as those from deforestation."
Logging practices can be designed to minimize ecological impact, but even when trees are picked selectively there is often collateral damage--ten to twenty times the number of harvested trees are destroyed through human error and poorly designed procedures for locating and removing correct targets. Putz et al. argue that worker training in directional felling and better planning of timber extraction paths can reduce these effects by at least 50%.
In long-term studies of conventional versus improved forest management practices in Malaysia and Brazil, improved management reduced carbon emissions by approximately 30%, compared to conventional logging. Using data on intensities and intervals of logging, areas of production forest (managed for timber and forest products), and their estimates of carbon loss, the authors estimated that global implementation of improved forest-management techniques would save 0.16 gigatons of carbon per year.
While emission policies in one area can sometimes have the unintended effect of raising emissions in another--for example, economic restrictions in one country can give its neighbor a competitive advantage--Putz et al. argue that better logging techniques have no negative impacts on production and can even improve financial yields, making this rearrangement of emissions, or "leakage," a non-issue.
"Incentives to retain more forest carbon through improved management would represent a big step toward sustainability in the vast area of tropical forests outside protected sites," the authors argue. "Although many details on measuring, monitoring, and compensating carbon sequestering by individuals, companies, communities, and governments need to be sorted out, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from tropical forest degradation should be given a high priority in negotiations leading up to the new climate c hange agreement to be formulated in Copenhagen in 2009."
- Putz et al. Improved Tropical Forest Management for Carbon Retention. PLoS Biology, 2008; 6 (7): e166 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060166
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