Saturday, November 21, 2009

Model predicts future deforestation

Anjali Nayar in Nature News: A computer model that predicts future changes in the world's forests could strengthen the case of Central African nations that are calling for compensation in exchange for protecting their natural resources. Forest management is expected to be a key point of discussion at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen in December. Countries will negotiate on how to reward rainforest nations for protecting their forests, a mechanism dubbed REDD for 'reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation'.

Deforestation rates in the Congo Basin rainforest — the second-largest rainforest on Earth — have hovered at around 0.15% per year for the past 15 years. But preliminary results from the model, unveiled this week, predict that forest cutting in the region will increase to 0.3–0.5% per year by 2020–30. Major rainforest countries that have historically had high deforestation rates — such as Indonesia (2.0%) and Brazil (0.6%) — are pushing for compensation that is based on historical trends. With a relatively high business-as-usual scenario, they are expected to reap above-average rewards for any decreases in deforestation.

But using historical trends will short-change the countries of the Congo Basin, some argue. Although in the past this region has had low deforestation rates, recent improvements in the road network as well as planned mining and timber projects are likely to increase deforestation rates considerably in coming years. "There are strong indications that Central African forests are at a critical turning point for the future," says Carlos de Wasseige, the coordinator of an EU-funded project called Forests of Central Africa, whuch hopes to set up a regional forest monitoring centre.

"Most proposals for [REDD] suggest that history is the best predictor of tomorrow," says Michael Obersteiner, who is leading the development of the forestry model at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, based in Laxenburg, Austria. "But for [Central African] countries, the forward-looking projections will be more reliable."…

Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda, photo by USAID

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