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Value on ecosystem services needed to curb Asian deforestation - IPCC chief

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 5 Aug 2011 23:18 GMT
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BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Deforestation is still occurring at an alarming rate in Asia Pacific countries despite a slight increase in overall forest cover, a leading climate scientist said Friday, and a better system to put a value on the ecosystem and the services it provides is needed to stop the losses.

Nobel laureate and head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) R. K. Pachauri said to curb deforestation there is a need “to identify and evaluate the value of ecosystem services, because forests are not merely a source of timber… but a wider part of human and animal systems.”

“The issue at stake is that when you affect forest cover, in a sense there is an entire chain of ecosystems that gets affected,” he said via weblink on the eve of the Second Regional Forum for People and Forests, to be held August 8 and 9 in Thailand’s capital.

RECOFTC – The Centre for People and Forests and one of the organisers of the forum, said with the exception of a few countries, notably the Philippines, Vietnam and China, Asia Pacific loses nearly four million hectares of natural forests each year. That is an area the size of Switzerland.

Activists say forests not only absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, curbing climate change, but are also home to 450 million people in Asia Pacific, more of than half of them indigenous and many suffering endemic poverty that contrasts sharply with the region’s rapid growth.

Forest dwellers now face unprecedented threats from climate change, rural poverty, and food and energy shortages, RECOFTC said.

Pachauri said healthy ecosystems are key to the livelihoods of the poorest of the poor.

“If there’s a reduction in these services or degradation in the quality of what people can derive, that affects livelihoods in a very serious way,” he said.

LOSSES, BUT REPLANTING

He said that between 2005 to 2010, Asia Pacific has seen an annual increase in forest cover of about 0.29 percent but this is largely the result of tree planting in countries like China and India.

The Southeast Asian region, “essentially one of the most densely-forested areas in the world,” has seen a decline in forest cover, amounting to about 1.3 percent annually in recent years, he said.

“This clearly is a rate of reduction in forest cover that must cause alarm and must require major intervention and policies by which we can turn things around.”

The United Nations has designated 2011 as the International Year of Forests.

Yam Malla, the executive director of RECOFTC said, “Deforestation is highly underestimated but one of the most – if not the most – catastrophic human actions against nature and the environment.”

It contributes to floods and landslides that cause death and destruction totaling in the billions of dollars as well as biodiversity loss and a climate change that produces extreme weather and more weather disasters, he said.

But these trends can be reversed, he said, if the forests are effectively managed by the local communities who rely on them for their livelihoods.

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