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  • Rikki Lambert

Agriculture, logging, fires blamed for forests now contributing to CO2 emissions

A UN-backed study suggests many forests including a major Australian forest region have been emitting more carbon dioxide than they have absorbed in recent years.

Sites including the greater Blue Mountains region in Australia have been pinpointed for emitting more heat-trapping carbon dioxide than they have absorbed in recent years, the report released on Thursday claims.

Authored by the IUCN and UNESCO, the report blames logging, fires and clearance of land for agriculture are to blame.

Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature and UNESCO, the UN's cultural and educational agency, say their report provides the first-ever assessment of greenhouse gases produced and absorbed in UNESCO-listed forests.

Griffith University professor Catherine Pickering, an expert in plant ecology, alpine ecosystems and protected area management, told FlowNews24:

“The threats for the world heritage areas for Australia were actually mostly from wildfires, but obviously the way that we farm needs to get even better and smarter so it’s a solution, not a problem.”

South Australian Liberal senator Alex Antic's initial reaction to the latest report was that it sounded like an exercise in 'creative writing':

“We do see frankly some very creative writing when it comes to the hard proponents of climate alarmism.”
“The left of politics likes to run the argument that the right of politics is all about environmental damage and vandalism whereas my experience is quite the opposite, conservative people are often farmers that rely on the land and know it better than anyone.”
“Frankly the UN and the IPCC have a pretty sketchy track record when it comes to telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth on these issues and with that comes the need to raise the alarm, that is the very definition of climate alarmism.”
“That’s why we have to be sensible about this policy approach and not knee jerking to everything that comes out of the UN.”

Tales Carvalho Resende, a co-author of the report who works at Paris-based UNESCO, said:

"All forests should be assets in the fight against climate change.
"Our report's finding that even some of the most iconic and best protected forests, such as those found in World Heritage sites, can actually contribute to climate change is alarming."

The 10 sites that were net sources of carbon dioxide from 2001 to 2020 were:

  • the Tropical Rainforest in Sumatra;

  • the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras;

  • Grand Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park in the United States;

  • Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in Canada and the U.S.;

  • the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in South Africa;

  • Kinabalu Park in Malaysia;

  • the Uvs Nuur Basin in Russia and Mongolia;

  • the Greater Blue Mountains area of Australia; and

  • Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica.

All told, however, the net emissions from the 10 sites together amount to little compared to the total of roughly 190 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that are absorbed each year by all 257 UNESCO-listed forests.

Of those, about 80 sites were net neutral, while the rest were net absorbers of carbon dioxide.

The 10 sites accounted for nearly 5.5 million tons of net emissions.

Professor Pickering was critical of Australia's position going into the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in November:

“The Australian commitment is viewed with enormous derision because we’re not pulling our weight, we’re not getting serious.”
“If you look at decisions that have been made in equivalent economies, if you look at the UK, if you look at the USA, you look at China, you look at India; they’re actually getting ahead of us on a whole lot of things and we’re getting left behind economically in this.”
“We need to get ahead, we’ve got a lot of great industry here, we’ve got a lot of great agriculture, we’ve got a lot of smart people...we need to be getting serious about this and doing the hard yards to be able to be obtaining the environmental, economic and social benefits that come from dealing with climate change.”


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