- Victoria Gill
- BBC Science Affairs reporter
Due to human activities and climate change, the world’s top ten most protected forests have been degraded, and the carbon absorption function is transforming into net carbon emissions.
This shocking conclusion is based on calculations based on a carbon absorption and emission study of forests in Unesco World Heritage sites.
The total area of the world heritage forest is twice the size of the German territory. The above-mentioned research reveals that in the past 20 years, the carbon emissions of the world’s top ten protected forests have exceeded the carbon absorption.
The study also shows that 257 world heritage forests scattered around the world absorb a total of 190 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. The report’s co-author, Dr. Resend of UNESCO, said that’s equivalent to half of the UK’s annual fossil fuel carbon emissions.
Dr. Resende said, “This is the most detailed picture of the key role that forests play in mitigating climate change we have known so far.”
Forests face multiple pressures, including illegal logging, agricultural expansion, and wildfires. Climate change makes the above phenomenon more likely to happen frequently.
Researchers combined satellite data with on-site monitoring information to estimate the total value and net value of carbon absorbed and emitted by World Heritage forests from 2001 to 2020.
In addition to calculating the billions of tons of carbon absorbed by these forest trees and vegetation, this study also revealed the tremendous pressure on some of these forest areas.
Some of the forests involved in this research are under the highest level of official protection, have important natural value to the world, and are closely followed and monitored.
Even so, Dr. Resende said, they are still under tremendous pressure. The main pressure comes from human pressure: for example, agricultural land occupation and illegal logging.
But Dr. Resende said there are also climate-related threats-especially wildfires.
In recent years, what UNESCO calls “unprecedented wildfires” have occurred frequently, especially in Siberia, the United States and Australia, which have produced tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide.
“This is a vicious circle,” Resende said. “The more carbon emissions, the more wildfires, and wildfires mean more carbon emissions.”
Moreover, wildfires are not the only climate-related threat.
The top ten forests with carbon emissions exceeding their carbon absorption in 2001-2020 World Heritage Sites are:
- Tropical rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia
- Leopratano Biosphere Reserve, Honduras
- Yosemite National Park, U.S.
- Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in the United States and Canada
- Barberton Makonwa Mountains
- Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia
- The Ubusu Basin Biosphere Reserve in Russia and Mongolia
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Great Blue Mountains, Australia
- Three Peaks National Park, Dominica
It is estimated that in 2017 Hurricane Maria destroyed 20% of the forest cover of Dominica’s Three Peaks National Park.
Dr. Resende said that this study warned us that even the best and most protected forest areas in the world are threatened by the global climate crisis.
“Therefore, it is now necessary to really take action to reduce global carbon emissions to ensure that these forests-and all forests-can continue to be carbon sinks, and of course, there is equally important biodiversity.”