The blueprint that hitherto underpinned the world economy was based on two underlying assumptions – that the world’s natural resources were infinite and that its natural eco-systems would always be able to accommodate the environmental impact of man’s activities. While that may have been true in 1800, it is no longer valid in today’s globalised economy with 6.7 billion people consuming at levels that were previously unimaginable. If we damage life-supporting eco-systems, pollute watercourses, over-fish oceans and destroy forests, we actually harm ourselves.
Deforestation continues at 13 million hectares a year and generates 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions – comparable to the emissions of the US or China and more than the entire global transport sector. Yet it is extraordinary that, while so much attention is devoted to reducing emissions from aviation (responsible for 3% of the total), the ongoing destruction and burning of tropical forests remains a sideline in climate discussions.
While tropical forests occupy only 7% of the Earth’s surface, they capture and store naturally – without cost – an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon per year, which is more than seven times the UK’s annual emissions (Iwokrama alone captures 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 annually). These forests are, moreover, part of an interconnected system that:
As individuals, we worry about global warming but collectively continue to allow the destruction of the planet’s natural air conditioning provided by forests. We worry about rising levels of atmospheric CO2, yet we are largely indifferent to the loss of the greatest carbon sinks.
Climate change is a multi-dimensional global problem requiring truly multi-dimensional global solutions. But one element can be addressed immediately – stopping the destruction of rainforests. It requires no new technology. It is far more cost effective than industrial solutions to carbon storage and capture. It brings numerous co-benefits in the form of sustainable development and poverty alleviation. But, if we do not halt the removal of forests, mid-century targets – now set by the recent G8 conference – for climatic stability will be unachievable. The answer lies in a fundamental reappraisal of what we value.
Climate change is already underway. We will see different effects across the world: