The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

22 July 2007

Rainforests and global warming

Tropical rainforests are of key importance to addressing climate change. This is often forgotten with all the talk of going carbon neutral and offsetting aircraft emissions.

Just the next five years of carbon dioxide released from the burning of the rainforests (which contributes 20% of global Greenhouse Gas emissions) will be greater than all the emissions from air travel since the Wright brothers until at least 2025.

Conserving the planet’s forests needs to be given much higher priority in the effort to reduce global carbon emissions for the following reasons:
• The importance of this source to total emissions.
• Because carbon capture an d nuclear technology will make no major impact on reducing emissions before 2030.

We can tackle deforestation now, without the need for inventing new and expensive technologies or creating a new energy infrastructure. Apart for storing carbon, these forests are also giant utilities generating rainfall and air-conditioning the atmosphere on a global scale. They maintain the planet for all the world’s people. This is something the world community must start to pay for and in doing so it will not only help the effort to conserve the forests but it will also help alleviate poverty among 1.2 billion of the world's poor who depend on these forests for their livelihoods. Developing countries cannot do this on their own. The global warming problem is not of their making. Yet this course of action offers the cheapest and most efficient immediate action for addressing climate change.

Who contributes what to Greenhouse Gas emissions
Power 24%
Deforestation 18%
Transport 14%
Industry 14%
Agriculture 14%
Buildings 8%
Other 5%
Waste 3%

The importance of forests to carbon capture
• Forest trees and soils contain twice as much carbon as in the whole of the earth’s atmosphere. Tropical forests store between 120 and 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare.
• Forest burning is contributing 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year in Brazil and 350 million tones per year in Indonesia.
• Peatlands cover just 3% of the earth’s land surface, but are the largest terrestrial store of biomass carbon. In South East Asia, with 7.6% of the world’s peatlands, 42 billion tones of carbon is stored.
• When peatland is drained, cleared or burned for agriculture, greenhouse gas emissions come from peat oxidization as well as from fire.

The Global Canopy Trust
The GCT is an international network of 29 scientific institutions from 19 countries involved in forest canopy research. Find out more from GCT organises forest canopy experience days in the UK in partnership with Go Ape It also organises more sophisticated forest experiences for the intrepid explorer who wants to learn more about the importance of forests in South East Asia and South America.

Facts about forest canopies
• Forest canopies are the richest known yet least explored terrestrial habitat on earth.
• The canopy is the functional interface between 90% of the globe's biomass and the atmosphere.
• 40% of all species on earth may exist in the canopy; 30% of them are likely to be canopy specialists.
• The value of this biodiversity to medicine, agriculture and humankind is unknown.
• New research shows rising CO2 is altering canopy function and could have a significant influence on disease patterns, hydrology (forest canopies intercept up to 25% of precipitation) and wood quality of over 45 million ha of land.
• We do not accurately know the canopy's role in maintaining the earth's carbon balance or climate.15-37% of global species most at risk could become extinct due to predicted climate change impacts in 50-100 years. Most of these will be in forest canopies.
• The forest canopy is the prime location for future risk prediction under global change and in which to interrogate ecosystem models.
• Multidisciplinary research in the canopy has challenged concepts of global species richness, plant physiology and the provision of ecosystem services.
• Closed forest canopies are fragmenting and disappearing faster than any other habitat.

Three things to do if you care about forests:
1. Find out about the UN billion trees campaign: the target was to plant 1,000,000,000 trees. So far pledges have been made to plant 1,063,845,640 trees and 37,131,175 have actually been planted. You can join the campaign and pledge to plant some trees (even just one tree) in your garden, as a school project, to brighten up the streets in your neighbourhood or to create a community orchard or forest. Make a pledge today.
2. Help TreeAid plant trees in rural Africa. This creates employment, alleviates poverty, helps counter desertification as well as capturing carbon.
3. Click on the Rainforest Site every day and save one square metre of rainforest a day. Get your friends to do this. Start a clickers group. It is a cost-free way of doing a little bit to save the rainforest. Make the Rainforest Site your homepage. It works!


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