Radio Australia: July 15 2011
Scientists have long known that trees take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, now for the first time a group of researchers have worked out exactly how much carbon is being absorbed by the world's forests.
The study, published in the journal Science, has found that forests remove one third of all the world's fossil fuel emissions.
Speaker: Pep Canadell, from the Australian research body, the CSIRO; Werner Kurz from the Canadian Forest Service
FELICITY OGILVIE: It's a study that scientists expect will shape the global climate change debate. One of the study's authors is Werner Kurz from the Canadian Forest Service.
He says they've found that the world's forests absorb one third of all fossil fuel emissions.
WERNER KURZ: What we found is that between 1990 and 2007 forests around the world took up about 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon per year. Some of that uptake was offset by deforestation emissions so forests have taken up about one third of the carbon that was emitted by humans.
FELICITY OGILVIE: They have found that tropical forests in places like Indonesia and Brazil are taking up the most carbon, but deforestation in those same countries is releasing vast amounts of carbon.
Dr Kurz says the study shows the importance of protecting forests.
WERNER KURZ: The fact that we have gotten this 30 per cent discount on our fossil fuel emissions with regard to increases in the atmosphere - if that sink does not continue to operate in the future, then the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere will go up considerably.
FELICITY OGILVIE: Another one of the authors is Pep Canadell from the CSIRO.
Dr Canadell says he was shocked to discover that deforestation is emitting almost three billion tonnes of carbon every year.
PEP CANADELL: We always had difficulties in really measuring, you know, what we call the carbon that is emitted, the flux and we have now a new number which is global and it shows that it is about anywhere between two and three times bigger than you know what previously you know we thought or we had data for.
FELICITY OGILVIE: Dr Canadell says some countries are already preparing to offset their carbon emissions by paying others to stop logging their forests.
PEP CANADELL: Finland has offered a billion dollars to Indonesia to start preparing for the red policies and so this is not even
exchanging any carbon yet, this is just getting ready.
FELICITY OGILVIE: The scientists hope their research will influence the discussions at the next UN convention on climate change.
It will be held in Durban this December.