World Heritage forests: Carbon sinks under pressure report


    In News 

    Recently, UNESCO, World Resources Institute (WRI) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released World Heritage forests: Carbon sinks under pressure.

    • It provides the first global scientific assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and sequestration by forests in UNESCO World Heritage sites.
    • It is combining satellite-derived data with monitoring information at the site level. 

    Major Findings 

    • Network and Role of the forest: The overall network of 257 forests in World Heritage sites,?played a vital role in mitigating climate change, by absorbing 190 million tons of CO2?from the atmosphere every year. 
      • That’s roughly half of the United Kingdom’s annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.  
      • World Heritage forests ?combined?area of 69 million hectares is?roughly twice?the size of Germany, are?biodiversity-rich ecosystems.? 
      • In addition to absorbing CO2?from the atmosphere,?they also?store substantial amounts of carbon. 
      • Carbon sequestration?by these forests over long periods has led to total carbon storage of?approximately 13?billion tons,?which is more than the carbon in Kuwait’s proven oil reserves.? 
      • Forests in World Heritage sites play a role in mitigating climate change and the report shows that strong and sustained protection of those sites and surrounding landscapes can contribute to effective solutions for climate change mitigation, adaptation and biodiversity.  
    • The majority of the World Heritage forest carbon is stored in tropical sites.
    • Forests contribute to the global climate system by both emitting and absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. 
    • Worrying scenario
      • Over the past 20 years, World Heritage sites lost 3.5 million hectares of forest (an area larger than Belgium) and forests in 10 World Heritage sites emitted more carbon than they absorbed. 
        • However, ten forests released more carbon than they sequestered due to pressure from human activity and climate change, which is alarming.
          • This is equivalent to roughly half of the United Kingdom’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels in 2019.
        • The 10 sites are:
          • Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Indonesia)
          • Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras)
          • Yosemite National Park (US)
          • Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (Canada, US)
          • Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (South Africa)
          • Kinabalu Park (Malaysia)
          • Uvs Nuur Basin (Russian Federation, Mongolia)
          • Grand Canyon National Park (US)
          • Greater Blue Mountains Area (Australia)
          • Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Dominica)
    • Highest blue carbon stocks : 
      • India’s Sundarbans National Park is among five sites that have the highest blue carbon stocks globally, 
      • The other four sites besides the Sundarbans National Park in India are the Bangladeshi portion of the Sundarbans (110 Mt C), Great Barrier Reef in Australia (502 Mt C), Everglades National Park in the United States (400 Mt C) and the Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania (110 Mt C).
    • Causes 
      • The reasons for emissions to be greater than sequestration included clearance of land for agriculture, the increasing scale and severity of wildfires due to drought as well as extreme weather phenomena such as hurricanes.
      • In the coming years, ongoing sequestration and carbon sinks are likely to be affected at a growing number of sites worldwide as a result of increasingly fragmented and degraded landscapes, and more frequent and intense climate-related events.  
    • Recommendations 
      • It recommended rapidly responding to climate-related events, as well as maintaining and strengthening ecological connectivity through improved landscape management. 
      • It also called for integrating the continued protection of Unesco World Heritage sites into international, national and local climate, biodiversity and sustainable development strategies.
      • This should be in line with the Paris climate agreement, the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals,
    • Conclusion
      • UNESCO World Heritage forests can continue to be reliable carbon sinks if they are effectively protected from local and global threats. 
      • The high profile, global reach, and inspirational power of World Heritage sites underpin a strong case for action. 
      • The successful implementation of actions to protect these forests requires the mobilization of key stakeholders (e.g., governments, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, local communities and the private sector) to develop sustainable financing and investments and promote interdisciplinary knowledge-sharing for decision-making.
      • This analysis of iconic sites showed that combining satellite data with on the-ground-information can improve local decision-making and strengthen accountability, thereby helping forests, climate and people.  

    What is the World Heritage List?


    • A World Heritage site is classified as a natural or man-made area or a structure that is of international importance, and a space which requires special protection.
    • These sites are officially recognised by the UN and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, also known as UNESCO.
    • UNESCO believes that the sites classified as World Heritage are important for humanity, and they hold cultural and physical significance.

    Source: DTE