The UNESCO report found that these sites could absorb about 190 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year – about half the amount of the United Kingdom’s annual fossil fuel emissions.
But over the past 20 years, many of these sites have shown increased emissions, some even exceeding how much carbon they were removing from the atmosphere.
Given the scale of these forests, Tels Carvalho Resende, project officer of UNESCO’s Natural Heritage Unit and co-author of the report, says this is increasingly a global issue, meaning global action is needed.
“The results that came out here are that this is not necessarily an issue related to a specific country or region, but it is a really global issue,” Resende told Granthshala. “When we look at where the 10 sites that are likely to be carbon sources are scattered around the world, the findings conclude that climate action is needed on a global scale.”
But the report shows that since 2000, threats from extraction industries, environmental degradation and climate change have been reported in nearly 60% of World Heritage sites, which, larger than the size of Belgium, have destroyed more than 8.6 million acres of forests. have lost. Of the 10 sites they found that have been flipped for carbon emitters, three are located in the United States.
The authors point out that this is the first time researchers have determined how the world’s forests are stripping atmospheric carbon dioxide. For centuries, World Heritage forests have stored about 13 billion tonnes of carbon, which is more than the total amount of carbon in Kuwait’s oil reserves.
“We can now see the important role World Heritage forests play in stabilizing the global climate,” Nancy Harris, research manager at the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch and co-author of the report, told Granthshala. “And the truth is, we’re totally underestimating and appreciating them.”
Forest fires, in particular, have burned large parts of these forests in recent years. While fires are an important part of forest ecosystems, many plant species depend on them to spread their seeds, scientists say, adding that fires are accelerating which can release long-term deposits of carbon within the soil and trees. Chances are at risk.
Over the past decade, warmer temperatures and dry conditions have affected the environment too much for wildfires to ignite. The report points to several examples of significant fires that have occurred over the past decade at World Heritage sites, including Russia’s Lake Baikal in 2016 and Australia’s Tasmanian Wilderness and Greater Blue Mountains region in 2019 and 2020.
“We have seen some wildfires in some sites that have emitted more than 30 million megatons of CO2 – this is what Bolivia emitted from fossil fuels in a single year,” Resende said.
“A single event can really be the emissions of an entire country,” he said. “And keep in mind, the fact that the emissions accounted for in the study are only within the boundaries of the sites, so this means that they represent only a small fraction of the fires in the wider landscape.”
The report is based on recently published maps that track the global exchange of carbon between forests and the atmosphere during the period 2001 to 2020, the climate impacts of forests as well as the consequences of human activities for these World Heritage sites. Uses site-level monitoring to analyze sites
“Our analysis shows how we can stop taking nature for granted and start putting a value on the climate benefits resulting from these and other important forest sites around the world,” Harris said.
Resende said the ability of forests to keep the climate crisis from spiraling out of control outweighs all the threats they face further.
“We really hope to accelerate climate action, to protect these jewels that are World Heritage Sites,” Resende said. “These are laboratories for environmental changes as a whole, not only related to climate but also to biodiversity. We really want to facilitate dialogue with key stakeholders to provide some sustainable investments for these sites. “
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