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New science highlights the promise of a major climate policy initiative by forest-rich developing countries

A tropical forests and climate policy study released today in the journal Science highlights the importance of slowing deforestation in tropical countries in the global effort to avert dangerous climate change.

Tropical deforestation currently accounts for nearly 20 percent of carbon emissions that cause global warming. A group of forest-rich developing nations have called for a strategy to make forest preservation politically and economically attractive. The result is a two-year initiative to assess key issues and policy approaches, “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation” (RED), launched by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The study comes as international climate negotiations are taking place this week in Bonn, Germany. There, policymakers are negotiating the design of international climate policies after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. On the table is a proposal put forward by the governments of forested developing countries who are seeking to reduce their emissions from deforestation in return for access to financing through the global carbon market.

An international team of eleven top forest and climate researchers* including Pierre Friedlingstein, a researcher at the French National Research Centre (CNRS), found that cutting deforestation rates in half by mid-century would account for up to 12 percent of the total emissions reductions needed to keep concentrations of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere at safe levels.

Dr Canadell, co-author and executive director of the Global Carbon Project, says that while tropical deforestation will continue, slowing the amount of clearing will make significant impacts. “If by 2050 we slow deforestation by 50 per cent from current levels, with the aim of stopping deforestation when we have 50% of the world’s tropical forests remaining, this would save the emission of 50 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. This 50/50/50 option would avoid the release of the equivalent of six years of global fossil fuel emissions.”

*Co-authors on the paper are Raymond Gullison of the University of British Columbia, Canada; Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists; Josep Canadell of the Global Carbon Project and CSIRO, Australia; Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution; Daniel Nepstad of The Woods Hole Research Center; Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University; Roni Avissar of Duke University; Lisa Curran of Yale University; Pierre Friedlingstein of IPSL/LSCE, France; Chris Jones of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, United Kingdom; and Carlos Nobre of Centro de Previsão de Tempo e Estudos Climáticos, Brazil.

Pep Canadell | alfa
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