Nav: Home

Study shows climate value of earth's intact forests

February 26, 2018

NEW YORK (EMBARGOED UNTIL 11 A.M. USET FEBRUARY 26, 2018) - New research published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution demonstrates the extraordinary value of Earth's remaining intact forests for addressing climate change and protecting wildlife, critical watersheds, indigenous cultures, and human health. Yet the global policy and science communities do not differentiate among the relative values of different types of forest landscapes--which range from highly intact ones to those which are heavily logged, fragmented, burnt, drained and/or over-hunted--due in part to the lack of a uniform way of measuring their quality.

With over 80 percent of forests already degraded by human and industrial activities, today's findings underscore the immediate need for international policies to secure remaining intact forests--including establishing new protected areas, securing the land rights of indigenous peoples, regulating industry and hunting, and targeting restoration efforts and public finance. Absent specific strategies like these, current global targets addressing climate change, poverty, and biodiversity may fall short, including the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals to sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

"As vital carbon sinks and habitats for millions of people and imperilled wildlife, it is well known that forest protection is essential for any environmental solution--yet not all forests are equal," said Professor James Watson of WCS and the University of Queensland. "Forest conservation must be prioritized based on their relative values--and Earth's remaining intact forests are the crown jewels, ones that global climate and biodiversity policies must now emphasize."

According to the study, the encroachment of human and industrial activity can have catastrophic effects. Once opened up, formerly intact forests become increasingly susceptible to natural pressures such as disease, fires, and erosion; they become less resilient to man-made climate change, and they become more accessible to human use, driving a spiral of decline.

Some key benefits of intact forests include:
  • Climate change: Intact forests currently absorb around 25 percent of carbon emissions from all human sources - damaging them will leave far more carbon dioxide in the air to warm the climate.
  • Water availability: Intact tropical forests ensure the stability of local and regional weather, generating more rain than cleared forests and thereby reducing the risk of drought.
  • Biodiversity: Intact forests have higher numbers of forest dependent species and have higher functional and genetic diversity.
  • Indigenous culture: Intact forests enable many indigenous groups to sustain their traditional cultures and livelihoods. In turn these peoples are often staunch defenders of their ancestral lands.
  • Human health: Forest degradation and loss compromise the supply of medically-beneficial species that millions of people rely on; additionally, forest degradation drives the spread of many infectious diseases by bringing humans and disease vectors into close contact.
Said Dr Tom Evans, WCS Director of Forest Conservation and Climate and joint lead author of the study: "Even if all global targets to halt deforestation were met, humanity might be left with only degraded, damaged forests, in need of costly and sometimes unfeasible restoration, open to a cascade of further threats and perhaps lacking the resilience needed to weather the stresses of climate change. This is a huge gamble to take, for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet. Our research shows that a remedy is indeed possible, but we need to act whilst there are still intact forests to save."

Retaining the integrity of intact forests must be a central component of global and national environmental strategies, alongside current efforts to stabilize deforestation frontiers and stimulate restoration. The researchers recommend several policy interventions to fill this gap, including:
  • Creating new standard metrics of intactness that can be used to raise awareness of the importance of forest quality and to help target action towards the most intact places.
  • Embedding the intact forests concept in the UN Framework Convention on Climate and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Special Reports, to help ensure the Paris Agreement's climate commitments include intact forest protections.
  • Supporting global and local forest policies that limit road expansion; regulate hunting, extraction, and development; invest in restoration and protected areas; and help secure indigenous communities' land tenure rights.
  • Supporting efforts that both restore and make degraded forests more productive while also conserving at-risk intact systems--rather than opening intact forests to activity.
-end-
This research was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world's oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world's most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy; the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago; and generating new knowledge about critical issues.

Wildlife Conservation Society

Related Climate Change Articles:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself
New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.