Scientists have concluded that tropical forests demonstrate high resilience, even after they are cut down, due to agriculture or pasture use, if they are left alone for 20 years. According to the study published in December 2021.
“Tropical forests are converted at alarming rates to other land uses yet they also have the potential to regrow naturally on abandoned agricultural fields and pastures. Widespread land abandonment because of fertility loss, migration, or alternative livelihood options has led to a rapid increase in the extent of regrowing forests. Currently, regrowth covers as much as 28% (2.4 million km2) of the neotropics alone. Regrowing secondary forests form a large and important component of human-modified tropical landscapes and have the potential to play a key role in biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, and landscape restoration.
No ecosystem is more important in mitigating the effects of climate change than tropical rainforest. And South-East Asia is home to the world’s third-biggest patch of it, behind the Amazon and Congo basins. Even though humans release carbon from these forests through logging, clear-felling for agriculture and other disruptions, some are so vast and fecund that the growth of the plants within them absorbs even more from the atmosphere. The Congo basin, for instance, locks up 600m tonnes of carbon a year more than it releases, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI), an international NGO that is equivalent to about a third of emissions from all American transport.
In contrast, such is the extent of clearing for plantations in South-East Asia’s rainforests, which run from Myanmar to Indonesia, that over the past 20 years they have turned from a growing carbon sink to a significant source of emissions—nearly 500m tonnes a year. Indonesia and Malaysia, home to the biggest expanses of pristine forest, have lost more than a third of it this century. Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, relative newcomers to deforestation, are making up for lost time.
The Global Forest Watch, which uses satellite data to track tree cover, loss of virgin forest in Indonesia and Malaysia has slowed for the fourth year in row—a contrast with other parts of the world…The Leaf Coalition, backed by America, Britain and Norway, along with such corporate giants as Amazon, Airbnb, and Unilever, aims to create an international marketplace in which carbon credits can be sold for deforestation avoided. An initial $1bn has been pledged to reward countries for protecting forests. South-East Asia could be a big beneficiary,
Admittedly, curbing deforestation has been a cherished but elusive goal of climate campaigners for ages. A big un initiative to that end, called REDD+, was launched a decade ago, with Indonesia notably due for help. It never achieved its potential. Projects for conservation must jump through many hoops before approval. The risk is often that a patch of forest here may be preserved at the expense of another patch there. Projects are hard to monitor. The price set for carbon under the scheme, $5 a tonne, has been too low to overcome these hurdles.
The Leaf Initiative would double the price of carbon, making conservation more attractive. Whereas buyers of carbon credits under REDD+ pocketed profits from a rise in carbon prices, windfalls will now go to the country that sold the credits. Standards of monitoring are much improved. Crucially, the scheme will involve bigger units of land than previous efforts, the so-called jurisdictional approach. That reduces the risk of deforestation simply being displaced from a protected patch to an unprotected one.
Excerpts from Banyan: There is hope for South-East Asia’s beleaguered tropical forests, Economist, May 1, 2021
The 2019 report by the Rainforest Foundation Norway RFN is called ‘Destination Deforestation’ and reviewed the role of the aviation industry in contributing to the climate crisis, concluding that there’s a high risk that increased use of palm and soy-based biofuel in planes will lead to increased deforestation.
Finland, the world’s largest producers of renewable diesel and the only EU country that gives additional incentives for the use of palm oil products to manufacture biofuel, could spearhead the race towards deforestation, as areas of rainforest in countries like Indonesia or in South America are cleared to plant crops that will later be used to produce the fuel. RFN says that meeting the aviation industry’s own climate-change targets to reduce emissions could result in 3.2 million hectares of tropical forest lost, an area larger than Belgium.
Researchers at Rainforest Foundation Norway believe the Finnish incentives for (Palm Fatty Acid Distillate) PFAD-based biofuels are likely to contribute to this deforestation, since Finland’s state-owned oil company Neste produces half of the world’s renewable diesel. “Finland continues to treat the palm oil by-product PFAD as a waste, eligible for additional incentives. In addition, Finland is home to Neste, the world’s largest producer of hydrotreated biodiesel, and uses PFAD as a raw material. Therefore, Finland’s program could contribute to the massive deforestation discussed in our report” he explains.
With Finland left isolated as the only EU country to pay producers to use waste-classified PFAD in biofuel production, Rainforest Foundation Norway cautions that the country risks becoming a dumping ground for unsustainable raw material….“As long as PFAD is classified as ‘waste’, it enjoys huge incentives from the state. Biofuels made out of PFAD are completely exempt from carbon dioxide tax in Finland. Additionally, PFAD’s emissions can be discounted, and it is not subject to the same sustainability criteria as other raw materials.
With ‘flight shame’ gaining more momentum across the world, the aviation industry is desperate to find ways to make flying compatible with climate goals. While replacing fossil fuels with renewables sounds like a great idea, the sustainability of biofuels is highly dependent on the raw materials used to produce them…The most common aviation biofuels, Hydrogenated Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) fuels are produced from vegetable oils and animal fats. While the use of waste oils and other recycled materials is possible, the most viable raw materials for HEFA jet fuels are food crops. “The cheapest and most readily available raw materials for HEFA jet fuel are palm oil and soy oil, which are closely linked to tropical deforestation” Ranum says. The experts suggest that aiming to reduce emissions by increasing demand for palm and soy oil is a cure worse than the disease.
Elias Huuhtan, Report: Finland’s push to use biofuel could cause ‘massive deforestation, https://newsnowfinland.fi/ , Oct. 7, 2019
BBC has used satellite data to assess the severity of fires in Brazil, Indonesia, Siberia and Central Africa. It has concluded that although fires in 2019 have wrought significant damage to the environment, they have been worse in the past. More than 35,000 fires have been detected so far in 2019 in East Asia spreading smoky haze to Malaysia, Singapore, the south of Thailand and the Philippines, causing a significant deterioration in air quality. But this is substantially fewer than many other years including those, such as 2015, exacerbated by the El Nino effect which brought unusually dry weather.
In Indonesia, peatland is set alight by corporations and small-scale farmers to clear land for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations, and can spread into protected forested areas. The problem has accelerated in recent years as more land has been cleared for expanding plantations for the lucrative palm oil trade. Old palm trees on plantations that no longer bear fruit are often set on fire to be replaced by younger ones.
The number of recorded fires in Brazil rose significantly in 2019, but there were more in most years in the period 2002 to 2010. There is a similar pattern for other areas of Brazilian forestry that are not part of the Amazon basin. For 2019, we have data up to the end of August, and the overall area burnt for those eight months is 45,000 sq km. This has already surpassed all the area burnt in 2018, but appears unlikely to reach the peaks seen in the previous decade… “Fire signals an end of the deforestation process,” says Dr Michelle Kalamandeen, a tropical ecologist on the Amazon rainforest. “Those large giant rainforest trees that we often associate with the Amazon are chopped down, left to dry and then fire is used as a tool for clearing the land to prepare for pasture, crops or even illegal mining.”
The environmental campaign group Greenpeace has called the fires that have engulfed the Russian region of Siberia this year one of the worst outbreaks this century. The cloud of smoke generated was reported to have been the size of all the European Union countries combined. Forest fires in Siberia are common in the summer, but record-breaking temperatures and strong winds have made the situation particularly bad. Russia’s Federal Forestry Agency says more than 10 million hectares (100,000 sq km) have been affected since the start of 2019, already exceeding the total of 8.6 million for the whole of 2018…. Drawing on data for the number of fires, it is clear that there have been other bad years, notably in 2003.
Nasa satellites have identified thousands of fires in Angola, Zambia and DR Congo.However, these have not reached record levels. “I don’t think there’s any evidence that the fires we’re seeing in Africa are worse than we’ve seen in recent years,” Denis McClean, of the UN Disaster Risk Reduction agency, told the BBC. According to data analysed by Global Forest Watch, fires in DR Congo and Zambia are just above average for the season but have been higher in past years. In Angola, however, fires have been reported at close to record levels this year.
Some have drawn comparisons with the situation in the Amazon, but the fires in sub-Saharan Africa are different. Take DR Congo – most fires are being recorded in settled parts of the country’s southern, drier forest and savannah areas, and so far not in tropical rainforest. Experts say it is difficult to know what is causing these fires, which are seasonal. Many are likely to be on grassland, woodland or savannah in poor farming communities. “Fires are very important landscape management tools and are used to clear land for planting crops,” says Lauren Williams, a specialist in Central and West African forests at the World Resources Institute.
Excerpts from Jack Goodman & Olga RobinsonIndonesia haze: Are forest fires as bad as they seem?, BBC, Sept. 19, 2019. For more details and data see BBC
Agriculture continues to present the biggest threat to forests worldwide. Some experts predict that crop production needs to be doubled by 2050 to feed the world at the current pace of population growth and dietary changes toward higher meat and dairy consumption. Scientists generally agree that productivity increase alone is not going to do the trick. Cropland expansion will be needed, most likely at the expense of large swathes of tropical forests – as much as 200 million hectares by some estimates.
Nowhere is this competition for land between forests and agriculture more acute than in Africa. Its deforestation rate has surpassed those of Latin America and Southeast Asia. Sadly, the pace shows no sign of slowing down. Africa’s agriculture sector needs to feed its burgeoning populations- the fastest growing in the world…. What’s more, for the millions of unemployed African youth, a vibrant agriculture sector will deliver jobs and spur structural transformation of the rural economy. Taken together, the pressures on forests are immense. Unless interventions are made urgently, a large portion of Africa’s forests will be lost in the coming decades – one farm plot at a time.
The difficult question is: what interventions can protect forests and support farmers at the same time?
To tackle these complex challenges, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has launched a new initiative: The “Governing Multifunctional Landscapes (GML) in Sub-Saharan Africa: Managing Trade-Offs Between Social and Ecological Impacts” Read more
Excerpts from XIAOXUE WENG et al Can forests and smallholders live in harmony in Africa?, CIFOR, June 3, 2019
Globally, average palm oil yields have been more or less stagnant for the last 20 years, so the required increase in palm oil production to meet the growing demand for biofuels has come from deforestation and peat destruction in Indonesia. Without fundamental changes in governance, we can expect at least a third of new palm oil area to require peat drainage, and a half to result in deforestation.
Currently, biofuel policy results in 10.7 million tonnes of palm oil demand. If the current biofuel policy continues we expect by 2030: • 67 million tonnes palm oil demand due to biofuel policy. • 4.5 million hectares deforestation. • 2.9 million hectares peat loss. • 7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over 20 years, more than total annual U.S. GHG emissions. It must always be remembered that the primary purpose of biofuel policy in the EU and many other countries is climate change mitigation. Fuel consumers in the European Union, Norway and elsewhere cannot be asked to continue indefinitely to pay to support vegetable oil based alternative fuels that exacerbate rather than mitigate climate change.
The use of palm oil-based biofuel should be reduced and ideally phased out entirely. In Europe, the use of biodiesel other than that produced from approved waste or by-product feedstocks should be reduced or eliminated. In the United States, palm oil biodiesel should continue to be restricted from generating advanced RINs under the Renewable Fuel Standard. Indonesia should reassess the relationship between biofuel mandate, and its international climate commitments, and refocus its biofuel programme on advanced biofuels from wastes and residues. The aviation industry should focus on the development of advanced aviation biofuels from wastes and residues, rather than hydrotreated fats and oils.