The IPCC report: Why the Earth’s climate depends on forests

10th October 2018

On Monday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its long-awaited report detailing how the world can and must keep global temperature rise below 1.5C, the threshold at which the effects of global warming will remain manageable.

The report is the product of extensive research carried out by more than 100 leading international scientists – including academics from Tanzania.

The new findings suggest that Earth’s temperature is set to rise by more than 1.5C by 2030.  This would significantly affect the planet’s liveability, the scientists have stated.

Arctic sea-ice coverage hits record low (1984 – 2012). Images by NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.

It was previously thought that limiting global warming to 2C would provide enough leeway for the world to cope with the human and environmental effects of climate change.

However, scientists now say that half a degree more warming than 1.5C would thrust millions of people into poverty and have disastrous and irreversible effects on the planet’s environment.

What are the solutions?

IPCC scientists have said that ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,’ are needed to keep the temperature under 1.5C, particularly with regards to energy consumption, land use, cities and industry.

The report provides a framework for governments to come up with up with strategies to prevent further warming of the planet but also highlights that individuals will play a vital role in limiting global warming, through making more eco-conscious lifestyle choices.

The importance of trees

Among the many issues that need to be addressed, the drastic reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and removal of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, are crucial. The IPCC report suggests a number of approaches, including planting new trees.

On 26 October, a six-week Raleigh Tanzania natural resource management (NRM) project will start in the Mufundi district of Iringa, located in the southern highlands of Tanzania.

Raleigh Tanzania volunteers planting seedlings at the tree-nursery in Ikaning’ombe village, Mufindi District.

This project is sponsored by the UK sports and teamwear firm Chadwick Textiles and will form a part of a recent three-year long commitment by the company to Raleigh Tanzania’s Natural Resource Management (NRM) programming. As a responsible business, Chadwick Textiles demonstrates how other commercial companies can positively respond to the findings of the IPCC report.

The primary objective of Raleigh Tanzania’s NRM programmes is the preservation and regeneration of forests, which occupy 40% of Tanzania’s total land mass. These areas are under threat because there is a huge dependence, especially amongst Tanzania’s rural poor, upon timber harvesting for building material and energy supply.

Working in partnership with the Tanzanian Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), the project aims to: create new tree nurseries and plant seedlings; establish a long-term care plan; and deliver youth-orientated activities to raise awareness of global and local environmental issues and the importance of protecting Tanzania’s forests.

Raleigh Tanzania supports entrepreneurs like Ninga (above) to start small enterprises that protect local forests. Ninga is purchasing corrugated iron for his sustainable bee-keeping business. Photograph by Rebbie Webbe (Communications Officer). 

With so many Tanzanians relying on these forests for their livelihoods, Raleigh’s project partner, TFCG, also works to support aspiring entrepreneurs in setting up sustainable businesses, such as producing charcoal in a way that minimises destruction to forests. This is also a focus of Raleigh Tanzania’s ICS Livelihoods programme, which is implemented in partnership with TFCG.

Natural technology

Although the IPCC report also suggests the use of technology for extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, scientists have spoken out about the validity of these techniques, stressing that the Earth’s climate depends on forests.

Prior to the release of the IPCC report, 40 environmental scientists signed a letter stating how ‘protecting, and sustainably managing the forests we already have, and restoring the ones we have lost, is the best use of trees in limiting climate change,’ the scientists said.

‘While high-tech CO2 removal solutions are under development, the “natural technology” of forests is currently the only proven means of removing and storing atmospheric CO2 at a scale that can meaningfully contribute to achieving carbon balance,’ they highlighted.

They concluded that ‘Our planet’s future climate is inextricably tied to the future of its forests.’

There remains debate on the effectiveness of the technology, but one thing seems certain — protecting the world’s forests will be critical for its survival.

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Words by Jessica Rowbury (Communications Officer)

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