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Are CO2 Emissions From Deforestation Exaggerated?

deforestation

It’s easy to shrug off climate change deniers who use incomplete or inaccurate data in their arguments, but it’s a harder pill to swallow when supposedly reputable organizations dupe us with exaggerated claims. Yet that’s exactly what happened recently with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which purportedly stretched the truth by claiming that deforestation is responsible for 20% of all CO2 produced by people.

In a new study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers from VU University in Amsterdam write that the IPCC’s widely quoted statement is actually based on outdated and exaggerated information on tropical deforestation. Instead, the researchers claim that deforestation is actually responsible for approximately 12% of carbon emissions. That still makes deforestation the second highest emitter of CO2 behind fossil fuel combustion, but it’s a significant enough reduction to potentially lower the price of carbon credits sold for forest protection. If the researchers are correct, it’s also an embarrassing gaffe on the part of the IPCC, which was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 (the same year that the 20% figure was released).

This doesn’t mean we should start razing forests. The VU University study found that previously unexamined emissions from the deforestation of tropical peatlands could be responsible for as much as 3% of all CO2 emissions. That’s a higher rate of emissions than the aviation industry.

The moral of the story, then, isn’t that deforestation is unimportant. But we should take claims from both sides of the climate change debate with a grain of salt. Even the VU University researchers admit that their 12% figure is an estimate–the real number could be anywhere between 6% and 17%. And that means we should allow for a wide margin of error in deciding just how much a forest protection-based carbon credit is worth.

[Via UK Guardian]

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