World Heritage forests releasing more carbon than they absorb due to pressure from human activity and climate change - UNESCO

Forests in at least 10 World Heritage sites have become net sources of carbon, due to pressure from human activity and climate change, according to a new report released on Thursday, by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The agency’s new analysis, World Heritage forests: Carbon sinks under pressure , shows that instead of helping mitigate global warming, some of the world’s most treasured forests are in fact adding to overall CO2 emissions.

view of Yosemite National Park, river under towering cliffs fringed by trees
Yosemite National Park, United States by Christian Joudrey on unsplash

The first ever scientific assessment of greenhouse gas emissions in forests on the UNESCO World Heritage list, has found that since the turn of the millennium, some forests such as the Yosemite National Park in the United States, and the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, have released more carbon that they sequestered due to wildfires, deforestation and global heating.

Given that the sites are highly prized and protected, the fact that 10 of the 257 forests surveyed are showing a carbon surplus, between 2001 and 2020 due to human activity, is alarming, said UNESCO.

According to UNESCO’s findings, at some sites the clearance of land for agriculture caused emissions to be greater than sequestration. The increasing scale and severity of wildfires, often linked to severe periods of drought, was also a predominant factor in several cases. Other extreme weather phenomena, such as hurricanes, contributed at certain sites.

The news is not all bad. The same research also reveals that overall, the network of 257 forests in World Heritage sites, played a vital role in mitigating climate change, by absorbing 190 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. That’s roughly half of the United Kingdom’s annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.

World Heritage forests, whose combined area of 69 million hectares is roughly twice the size of Germany, are biodiversity-rich ecosystems. 

In addition to absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere they also store substantial amounts of carbon.

Read the report.

Posted on: 29 October 2021

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