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Forests stand tall on agenda at United Nations conference in Qatar


Posted by Robert H. Westover

Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service

With the passage last week of a draft resolution for a new International Day of Forests every March 21, the United Nations placed the importance of protecting the planet’s forests as a top priority for the world organization and its member states during a meeting at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar.


Now comes the hard part.


By the close of the conference Friday, negotiators are attempting to reach a broad agreement on dealing with rising global temperatures with deforestation expected to be high on the list of important topics. U.S. Forest Service scientist John Parrotta is in Doha to help assist delegates with this heavy lift.


John Parrotta

Parrotta led a multidisciplinary team of scientists from around the world assembled by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations. The team released a report on reducing land-based carbon emissions.


The report, presented during Forest Day 6 in Doha, is helping in the negotiation process because it is giving delegates the most up to date scientific data on how reducing the rates of global deforestation will yield substantial gains for climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, and human well-being worldwide.

Parrotta said keeping forests healthy is vital to mitigating climate change.

A stand of trees is surrounded by deforestation. Photo
courtesy of Thinkstock.

“Forests can either absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – if they’re expanding and growing,” he said. “Or forest areas can be a source of carbon dioxide and exacerbate climate change, if, as we are seeing in many parts of the world, forests are being lost, being cleared or being degraded. So forests actually are a very important piece of the overall climate change picture.”

The U.N. estimates the world population will reach 9 billion by 2050, bringing with it a much greater demand for food. Growing appetites could lead to greater deforestation as more forests are cleared to make room for agriculture. The report recommended smarter agricultural practices to bring greater productivity on existing agricultural land.

Parrotta said while deforestation is on the climate change conference agenda, now is time to act. “As long as current trends continue with respect to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, forest loss and forest degradation, and associated declines in biodiversity, the more difficult – and costly – it’s going to be to try to reverse these trends,” he said.


US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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