GENEVA – Sites containing some of the world’s most valuable forests, including Yosemite National Park and Indonesia’s Sumatra Rainforest, are emitting more heat-trapping carbon dioxide than they have absorbed in recent years, according to a United Nations-backed report.
According to the report released Thursday, factors such as logging, wildfires and land clearing for agriculture are to blame. Excess carbon appears in only 10 of the 257 forests designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature and UNESCO, the United Nations cultural and educational agency, said their report provides the first-ever assessment of greenhouse gases produced and secured in UNESCO-listed forests. The study was based on information collected through on-site monitoring and from satellites.
The study adds to the mounting evidence that human activities and the impacts of climate change – which scientists say extreme weather events such as droughts and wildfires are becoming more likely – have altered some of the natural carbon sinks that absorb carbon dioxide from the air in clear years. . Round sources of carbon dioxide. the past two decades.
“All forests must be an asset in the fight against climate change,” said Tales Carvalho Resende, one of the report’s authors who works for the Paris-based UNESCO. “Our report’s finding that even some of the best-known and best-protected forests, such as those in World Heritage sites, can actually contribute to climate change is alarming.”
The effects of climate change will be on many’s minds when world leaders gather in Glasgow this weekend for a major United Nations climate conference known as COP26.
The ten sites that were net carbon sources from 2001 to 2020 were the tropical rainforests of Sumatra; Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras; Grand Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park in the United States: Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in Canada and the United States; Barberton Makhongwa Mountains in South Africa; Kinabalu Park in Malaysia; Nur Yves Basin in Russia and Mongolia; the Greater Blue Mountains region of Australia; and Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica.
However, the net carbon emissions from the ten sites combined are small compared to the total of nearly 190 million tons of carbon dioxide absorbed each year by the 257 UNESCO-listed forests. Of these, about 80 sites were completely neutral, while the rest were net carbon absorbers.
The ten sites accounted for nearly 5.5 million tons of net carbon dioxide emissions. The tropical rainforests of Sumatra were the most impactful, removing about 1.2 million tons from the atmosphere but releasing another 4.2 million tons – resulting in net emissions of about 3 million tons. The study found that this was due to a combination of logging and timber harvesting, as well as the impact of farming.
In the United States, Yosemite has generated nearly 700,000 net tons of carbon, largely as a result of devastating wildfires in the region in recent years.
Tales Carvalho Resende has referred to four “really massive wildfires” in the past 10 years at the World Heritage sites.
“World Heritage sites serve as laboratories and observatories for environmental change,” he added. “What’s happening at World Heritage sites is just the tip of the iceberg…in terms of emissions, it’s just a small part of the whole picture.”
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