Engage Your Business: Fight Climate Change
Featured StoriesLearn why forest conservation is the key to battling climate change in Honduras's Mosquitia Region.
See how communities in Guatemala are earning income by keeping their forests standing.
Read an interview with our climate initiative manager.
Since the industrial revolution, rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere have changed the Earth's climate. By the middle of the 21st century, nine billion people will live on this planet, straining our limited natural resources and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
While the impacts of climate change may seem abstract, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that we are already experiencing its effects, including:
- an increase in the severity and duration of droughts;
- increased tropical cyclone activity and tropical sea surface temperatures;
- longer warm seasons;
- increased temperatures throughout the Arctic; and,
- shrinking of Arctic sea ice.
To avoid profound and irreversible changes to the Earth's climate, we must have reduced our emissions by 60 – 80 percent from current levels by 2050. However, we won't be able to avoid dangerous climate change -- an increase of temperature of over 2 degrees from preindustrial levels -- without conserving the world's forests. Forests provide us with a unique opportunity: they can be part of the solution to climate change, or they can be part of the problem.
Forests, tropical forests in particular, are sponges for carbon dioxide. Through photosynthesis, these trees sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, and store it in their roots, trunk, branches and leaves.
When a tree dies and decomposes, the carbon it has stored over its lifetime is released back into the atmosphere. When forestland is burned to make way for farming, ranching or other uses, that process is accelerated.
Global forest loss contributes to between 12 and 15 percent of our total greenhouse gas emissions each year -- to put that in perspective, trains, planes, and automobiles combined contribute to about 13.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. In some tropical countries (i.e., Brazil and Indonesia) emissions from deforestation can be as high as 50 - 70 percent -- higher than from all other sources.
Of course, forests don't just absorb carbon dioxide. They also provide us with fresh water, clean air, biodiversity, fuel, food, medicine, wood products, and spiritual and recreational environments. When forests disappear, these goods and services are lost. The impact is often greatest on the 1.4 billion of the world's poor who depend on forests to feed, clothe and shelter their families. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we are currently losing forests at the rate of 32 million acres (approximately 13 million hectares) each year -- a land area the size of Nicaragua or the State of Louisiana.
Without a financial incentive to keep their forests standing, governments and poor communities are apt to convert their forests to farmland or other higher-value uses. These pressures will only increase as forest-rich countries utilize their natural resources to support growth.
The Rainforest Alliance is working to help communities realize economic benefits from all of the goods and services that forests provide, including tangibles like timber and botanicals, and intangibles, like carbon sequestration.