Greenhouse gas emissions from tropical forest degradation: an underestimated source

Carbon Balance Manag. 2017 Dec;12(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s13021-017-0072-2. Epub 2017 Feb 14.


Background: The degradation of forests in developing countries, particularly those within tropical and subtropical latitudes, is perceived to be an important contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. However, the impacts of forest degradation are understudied and poorly understood, largely because international emission reduction programs have focused on deforestation, which is easier to detect and thus more readily monitored. To better understand and seize opportunities for addressing climate change it will be essential to improve knowledge of greenhouse gas emissions from forest degradation.

Results: Here we provide a consistent estimation of forest degradation emissions between 2005 and 2010 across 74 developing countries covering 2.2 billion hectares of forests. We estimated annual emissions of 2.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide, of which 53% were derived from timber harvest, 30% from woodfuel harvest and 17% from forest fire. These percentages differed by region: timber harvest was as high as 69% in South and Central America and just 31% in Africa; woodfuel harvest was 35% in Asia, and just 10% in South and Central America; and fire ranged from 33% in Africa to only 5% in Asia. Of the total emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, forest degradation accounted for 25%. In 28 of the 74 countries, emissions from forest degradation exceeded those from deforestation.

Conclusions: The results of this study clearly demonstrate the importance of accounting greenhouse gases from forest degradation by human activities. The scale of emissions presented indicates that the exclusion of forest degradation from national and international GHG accounting is distorting. This work helps identify where emissions are likely significant, but policy developments are needed to guide when and how accounting should be undertaken. Furthermore, ongoing research is needed to create and enhance cost-effective accounting approaches.

Keywords: Carbon stock; Deforestation; Forest fire; REDD+; Timber harvest; Woodfuel.