Forests do not save from emissions. Why do UNESCO stocks emit instead of absorbing CO2?

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Photographer, Andreas Brick

Ten of UNESCO’s 257 forest reserves, including one in Russia, have become sources of harmful carbon dioxide emissions over the past 10 years. Forest fires are to blame – they cause the release of carbon into the atmosphere, which leads to overheating and new fires.

For the first time, detailed data were obtained on the effectiveness of the UNESCO Nature Reserve Network in combating air pollution. Previously, the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by these forests with a total area twice that of Germany could only be estimated, according to a new UNESCO report.

Among the 10 stocks mentioned in the document, there is a Russian. More specifically, Russo-Mongolian. This is the state reserve Ubsunur Hollow, the Russian part of which is located in the Republic of Tyva.

The researchers also came to some conclusive conclusions – UNESCO reserves actually absorb carbon dioxide effectively. In the last 20 years, these 69 million hectares of forests have absorbed 190 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

“This is almost half of the emissions from fossil fuel burning in Britain,” said one of the report’s authors, Dr Carvalho Resende.

“In the past, we did not have such a detailed understanding of the role that these forests play in combating climate change,” he says.

However, forests are at great risk. The report lists many risk factors, from illegal logging to fires, which are becoming more frequent as the weather warms up.

Photographer, David Geldhoff

photo caption,

The Redwoods in California parks are among the oldest living creatures on Earth to have fallen victim to fires.

To determine exactly how much carbon they emit, the scientists used satellite data combined with ground measurements. Thanks to the study, they were able to determine the emission dynamics and the conservation of carbon dioxide from biomass over the years, from 2001 to 2020.

As it turned out, ten stocks during this period retained more carbon than they emitted. We are talking about areas that are specifically protected by national governments located on different continents.

Photographer, Hindechiro Otake

photo caption,

Pimachevin Aki Game Reserve in Canada

“He is still under a lot of pressure,” says Dr. Resende. Threats to stocks are divided into natural and man-made.

Vicious circle

From the observations of the authors of the report, it appears that since the mid-2010s (starting around 2015-2016), forest fires have become much more common in stocks, which scientists attribute to global warming and drought. . As examples, researchers report fires in Siberia in 2016-17 and in Tasmania in 2019-2020. Each of these fires produced carbon dioxide emissions at the level of the country’s average annual emissions.

Fires are rising even in tropical areas where they used to be rare, scientists say. However, fires, of course, do not always occur for natural causes. A fire can occur, for example, outside the protected area and then spread to it. The human factor – illegal logging, clearing for farms and other similar activities – remains the main threat to forests, says Dr. Resende.

Fires cause the release of carbon into the atmosphere, which leads to heating and new fires.

“It’s a vicious circle,” says Resende.

Video caption,

Millions of hectares on fire: what you need to know about fires in Siberia

UNESCO stocks that emit more carbon dioxide than oxygen:

  • Tropical rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia
  • Rio Platano Nature Reserve, Honduras
  • Yosemite National Park, USA
  • Waterton Glacier Park, Canada and USA
  • Mahonjwa Mountains, South Africa
  • Kinabalu Park, Malaysia
  • Ubsunur Hollow Reserve, Russia and Mongolia
  • Grand Canyon Shelter, USA
  • Blue Mountains, Australia
  • Morne Trois Pitons, Dominica

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