Today’s post is a guest blog by Cool Earth from Eco Action Games’ brilliant Copmas campaign that we didn’t manage to squeeze in before December.
Oh and Happy New Year from the Heads!
Rainforests – why they matter
Half of the world’s rainforest has been destroyed in the last 40 years. It continues to be lost at an ever increasing rate. Protecting the remaining rainforests is pivotal to the climate change agenda because of their crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But forest also provide a habitat for incredible biodiversity, and livelihoods for millions of people.
Rainforests are carbon sinks. Trees have hidden attributes that play a key role in reducing pollutant levels. Take carbon dioxide (CO2) for example, a gas emitted from both natural and human sources. Rainforests absorb huge quantities of this greenhouse gas through photosynthesis. Trees and vegetation take CO2 and effectively lock it into their structures, keeping it safe from the atmosphere for hundreds of years. This is known as a ‘carbon sink’.
However, what forests take from the atmosphere, they can also give back. When forests are burnt to clear the land, carbon matter is released in the form of CO2 back into the atmosphere.
Organisations and governments are working towards preventing the destruction of rainforests as part of their efforts to keep warming below two degrees. Cool Earth is focusing where the biggest impact can be made – in areas on the brink of rapid deforestation. The charity has protected more than 500,000 acres of rainforest that would otherwise have been destroyed: the equivalent of 130,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide not reaching the atmosphere, where it would contribute to global warming.
Biodiversity An estimated two thirds of the world’s biodiversity is found in the rainforests, despite them only covering around 6% of the world’s surface. The Amazon alone is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity. A very large number of Amazonian plant and animal species are “endemic”, meaning that they are not found anywhere else in the world. Recent estimates indicate that in the Amazon there are 18,000 varieties of plants, 434 species of mammals, 239 reptile species, 225 species of amphibians, and more freshwater fish and primates than anywhere else on the planet. Deforestation is damaging this biodiversity irreparably.
As rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Approximately half of all synthetic drugs have a natural origin, including 10 of the 25 biggest-selling drugs in the US. The US National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest.
More broadly, biological diversity is the resource upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. If there is a biodiversity crisis, our health, livelihoods and economy are at risk too.
Bottom up or top down? Rainforest loss is not just a crisis for the planet but a tragedy for local people who depend upon the forest their entire livelihoods. Cool Earth believe it is these people who are best positioned to stop deforestation. It’s an effective example of ‘bottom up’ rainforest protection which harnesses the power of the local people to protect it. The model builds up the resilience of these indigenous communities, which is essential for the survival of these vital ecosystems. Top down agreements like those we hope will come from the COP21 discussions are also vital. Strong national and international laws and conventions creates a framework and structure that helps to support and strengthen the work that is being carried out on the ground.
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