In 2012 we saw some very significant findings related to the importance of forests for the health and well being of the planet. We also saw destructive trends that are compromising forests as well as efforts to undermine forests protections. While forests create jobs and significantly contribute to the economy they also play a crucial role in mitigating climate change. Forests cover 30 percent of Earth’s land surface and store 45 percent of the carbon found in terrestrial ecosystems and sequester as much as 25 percent of annual carbon emissions from human activities.
Forests reduce the impacts of climate change by sequestering carbon and releasing oxygen, however, less trees means more carbon and less oxygen. This constitutes a dangerous feedback loop. Declining forests are being impacted by global warming and this is interfering with the natural processes that mitigate climate change. In addition to reducing atmospheric CO2, forests are important for drinking water, they protect against soil erosion and contribute to biodiversity that provides habitats for countless species of plants and animals.
Climate Change is Killing Forests
Perhaps most troubling was a 2012 study which demonstrated that climate change is causing a massive forest die-offs on almost every continent on Earth. In the US, there has been an increase in the incidence and severity of forest fires since 2000. A wide range of forest are being adversely impacted by global warming including the Redwood forest in Marin, CA. Rainforest in Borneo. Forests in Southeast Asia, the Russian Far East, and the Amazon. Roughly a million hectares of Amazon rainforest suffered from severe drought stress in 2010.
Deforestation of Tropical Rainforest Decreases Precipitation
Another 2012 study showed that in addition to increased carbon emission and decreases in atmospheric oxygen, the deforestation of tropical rainforests can also significantly decrease rainfall. According to the study titled, “Observations of increased tropical rainfall preceded by air passage over forests,” the destruction of tropical forests could reduce rain across the Amazon basin by more than a fifth (21%) in the dry season by 2050. This study suggests that rainforests can double the amount of rainfall even in areas thousands of kilometres away.
Trees are Increasingly Being Used to Generate Electricity
In 2012 an increasing number of American and European companies are cutting down forests to convert trees into pellets for electricity. It is tragically ironic that trees are being destroyed in the name of renewable energy. This is greenwash at its worst. As developed nations turn away from coal they are increasingly burning trees for electricity. According to many assessments wood is even worse than coal in terms of the carbon emissions they generate.
Illegal logging has a significant economic cost, it also is a serious environmental threat. Clear-cutting of forests in the tropics accounts for 8-15 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Illegal loggers have a particularly detrimental effect on legal producers as they are able to undercut stolen wood at artificially low prices. This practice creates trade distortions that decrease the global price of legal wood by about 16 percent which results in job losses and an estimated billion dollar in losses for the wood industry. The World Bank estimates that illegal logging costs governments and businesses at least $10 billion to $15 billion in losses each year. .
Assault on the Lacey Act
The Lacey Act is US legislation that protects against illegal logging. The Lacey Act was first passed in 1900 to ban the transport of poached game across state lines. It was amended in 2008 to bar importing wood that is illegally exported under another country’s laws. The Lacey Act blocks the importation of raw material and products made from illegal wood, eliminating the US market for these products.
The Lacey Act is supported by organizations like the American Forest and Paper Association and the National Wood Flooring Association. Many large organizations also support approaches like those contained in the Lacey Act. Companies like Staples, Home Depot and Lowe’s support policies that reduce the threat that illegal wood products pose to the US market.
In 2012 Republican members of Congress sought to erode the Lacey Act. In March, two Republicans, Paul Broun, R-Ga., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced legislation to repeal the requirement that US companies comply with foreign environmental laws. Their bill would have lowered the penalties for violations under the Lacey Act.
The Broun/Paul bill would have allowed illegally traded wood — which is cheap and often taken from over-forested or protected land — to make its way into the US market.
Scientists Defend the Lacey Act
In 2012 a prominent group of scientists published a report that illustrates how the Lacey Act legislation curbs deforestation and enhances the competitiveness of US logging and wood processing industries. The new report urges Congress to leave the law alone and provide enough money to enforce it.
The report was released on April 16, by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), it is titled “Logging and the Law: How the U.S. Lacey Act Helps Reduce Illegal Logging in the Tropics. ” The report outlines how illegal logging poses a significant threat to the US economy and endangers tropical ecosystems around the world.
In addition to harming US businesses, the report shows that illegal logging causes significant damage to tropical forests by reducing biodiversity, destroying soil, damaging trees and releasing carbon dioxide that contributes to global climate change. Every year illegal logging contributes to tropical forest loss, which in total is roughly the size of Pennsylvania.
Businesses Supporting Trees
There is a great deal the business community can do to contribute to the health and well being of forests. In 2012, a number of businesses and organizations partnered with Arbor Day in support of trees. A diverse array of businesses initiated programs in support of trees and forests For example Enterprise Rent-A-Car initiated a program to plant 50 million trees over 50 years. Other businesses that have demonstrated their support include Blooms Today, Bota Box, Brother International, Disney’s Friends for Change, Deere & Company, Mary Kay, Inc., Toyota, UPS Foundation, Wells Fargo and Wyndham Vacation Ownership.
A number of organizations are also working with Arbor Day to plant trees and raise awareness they include Project Plant It, and Humana,
REDD is the Key
REDD is an abbreviation for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.” REDD is a UN initiative and the key mechanism to reduce forest loss. While there was some incremental progress in 2012, overall REDD is not getting the global support required.
If we are serious about protecting forests we must focus on putting the REDD framework into practice.
The Economic and Employment Benefits of Forests
What The Business Community Can Do To Protect Forests
Arbor Day 2012 Business Partners
Using Trees for Electricity is Not Green Energy
Study Shows Deforestation of Tropical Rainforest Decreases Precipitation
Study Shows that Climate Change is Killing Forests
The Costs of Illegal Logging
The Lacey Act Combats Illegal Logging
Challenge to the Lacey Act
Scientists Defend the Lacey Act
Video: Reducing Emissions Through Forest Preservation with REDD