Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff had the nerve to talk about making “promises for the type of future that we want” through “growth, inclusion and protection,” while at the same time doing everything in her power to push through construction of the destructive Belo Monte Dam in the Amazon
Human Appropriated Net Primary Production (HANPP) is as high as 40% of the planet’s Net Primary Production excluding the Arctic and Antarctica.

Our anthropogenic activities threaten the forests and trees of the planet, which are half the lungs of the planet (the other half being the oceans). Forests are under threat for anthropogenic activity from all sides. Economic activity such as agriculture and converting the land for other uses is exasperated by unsustainable logging practices and global warming, which can lead to draughts which can kill forests, turning carbon sinks into carbon sources.


  • 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year.
  • Deforestation is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Tropical forests, where deforestation is most prevalent, hold more than 210 gigatonnes of carbon.
  • 87% of global deforestation occurs in just 10 countries, with Brazil and Indonesia accounting for 51% of emissions from forest loss.

Deforestation is caused by:

(Source: WWF)

Figure 1: Global deforestration map

Malaysia Borneo loses 80% of its Old Growth Forest in 30 Years

The paper Extreme Differences in Forest Degradation in Borneo: Comparing Practices in Sarawak, Sabah, and Brunei published July 17, 2013 in PLOS ONE public journal reveals the devastating loss of old growth forest in Malaysia Borneo. The study is a collaboration between the University of Tasmania, University of Papua New Guinea, and the Carnegie Institution for Science and uses satellite data from Carnegie Landsat Analysis System-lite (CLASlite), a freely available platform for measuring deforestation and forest degradation.  The CLASlite system is one of the few methods able to detect deforestation. It has been used to detect deforestation and forest degradation throughout the Amazon basin, Madagascar, and elsewhere.

The study compares the impact of the logging practices in two neighbouring countries, Malaysia and Borneo. Boreo is oil-rich and has opted to preserve its old growth forest. Malaysia, on the other hand is a hot spot in unsustainable logging practices.

Study co-author Phil Shearman of the University of Papua New Guinea said that “the extent of logging in Sabah and Sarawak documented in our work is breathtaking,” and noted that “The logging industry has penetrated right into the heart of Borneo and very little rainforest remains untouched by logging or clearfell in Malaysian Borneo.”

The study uncovered:

  • 364,000 km) of roads have been carved across Sabah and Sarawak
  • 45,400 square kilometers of forest ecosystems in the region remain intact.
  • roughly 80 percent of the two states have been impacted by logging or clearing
  • In contrast in much smaller Brunei, there was 4,018 km2 of forest, of which 79% was relatively intact with only 15% degraded and 6% severely degraded

The study was based upon 2009 data. There has undoubtedly been even more degradation since 2009.

Greater Mekong Countries have lost 33% of their Forests in 40 Years

Using satellite data, the WWF calculated that since 1980:

  • Cambodia has lost 22% of its 1973 forest cover,
  • Laos 24%
  • Burma 24%
  • Thailand 43%
  • Vietnam 43%

Together, these 5 countries in the greater Mekong have lost nearly 40m hectares (ha) of forest cover since 1980 but have retained about 98m ha of natural forest, just over half of the region’s land area. The 2013 WWF  report on ecosystems in the greater Mekong area warns that these countries risk losing more than one-third of their remaining forest cover within the next two decades if they fail to increase protection.

“The greater Mekong is at a crossroads,” said Peter Cutter, landscape conservation manager with WWF-Greater Mekong. “One path leads to further declines in biodiversity and livelihoods, but if natural resources are managed responsibly, this region can pursue a course that will secure a healthy and prosperous future for its people.”

Alarming fragmentation has been taking place in the past 30 years. Large connected areas of “core” forest – defined as areas of at least 3.2km sq of uninterrupted forest – have declined from over 70% in 1973 to about 20% in 2009. If current trends continue, WWF predicts that by 2030 only 14% of the greater Mekong’s remaining forest will consist of contiguous habitat capable of sustaining viable populations of many wildlife species.

(Source: Guardian)

Some Trees are Carbon Sources rather than Sinks

Sunitha Pangala sampling methane emissions from trees in a peat swamp in Borneo.(Source: University of Bristol)

Wetlands are a well-established and prolific source of atmospheric methane. Yet ground-based measurements of methane are far below the quantities detected in tropical air by satellites. To resolve the puzzle, PhD student Sunitha Pangala, co-supervised by University of Bristol researcher Dr Ed Hornibrook measured a forested peat swamp in Borneo with colleague Sam Moore, assessing whether soil methane might be escaping to the atmosphere by an alternative route.

Methane emissions are normally measured by putting sealed chambers on the ground to capture gas seeping or bubbling from the soil. The team suspected that trees may play an active role as well and placed a sealed chamber over tree stems. To their surprise, they found that 80% of all wetland emissions were channeled through tree roots.

The results were published in a 2013 research paper Trees are major conduits for methane egress from tropical forested wetlands. New Phytologist, 2013. Professor Ed Honibrook and Dr Vincent Gauci are conducting a 3 year study from 2013 to 2016 to determine how widespread the phenomena is in wetlands around the world.

Drought Induced Forest Die-Off from Global Warming

Assessing the potential for, and consequences of, extensive climate-induced forest dieback is fundamentally important because trees grow relatively slowly but can die quickly. A 100-year-old tree may be killed by severe drought within a few months to a few years. As a result, drought-triggered forest mortality can result in rapid ecosystem changes over huge areas, far more quickly than the gradual transitions that occur from tree regeneration and growth.

Land-use impacts such as anthropogenic burns and forest fragmentation, interacting with climate-induced forest stress, are likely to amplify forest dieback in some regions, for example the Amazon Basin (Nepstad et al., 2008). If current forest ecosystems are forced to adjust abruptly to new climate conditions through massive forest dieback, many pervasive and persistent ecological and social effects will result from the loss of forest products and ecosystem services – including sequestration of atmospheric carbon.

One consequence of substantial forest dieback is redistribution of within­ ecosystem carbon pools and rapid losses of carbon back to the atmosphere. For instance, climate-driven effects of forest dieback, insect and disease mortality and fire impacts have recently turned Canada’s temperate and boreal forests from a net carbon sink into a net carbon source (Kurz et al., 2008). Similarly, it is possible that “widespread forest collapse via drought” could transform the world’s tropical moist forests from a net carbon sink into a large net source during this century (Lewis, 2005).

Given the potential risks of climate-induced forest dieback, increased management attention to adaptation options for enhancing forest resistance and resilience to projected climate stress can be expected, for example thinning stand densities to reduce competition, selection for different genotypes (e.g. drought resistance) or translocation of species to match expected climate changes – Craig D Allen, Eminent Forestry Researcher

Figure 2a: Current vs future projected trends of forest die-off due to climate change (Source: Craig D Allen)

Figure 2b: Potential limits to vegetation Net Primary Production n based on fundamental physiological limits by vapor pressure deficit , water balance, and temperature (Source: Churkina & Running, 1998; Nemani et al., 2003; Running et al., 2004).

Factors that influence Forest Growth

  • The main abiotic controls of primary production (temperature, radiation, and water) interact to impose complex and varying limitations on vegetation activity in different parts of the world (Churkina & Running,
  • 1998; Nemani et al., 2003; Running et al., 2004)
  • Physiological responses to changes in climate are highly dependent on the limiting factors of a particular site to forest growth
  • For example, increasing temperature may also increase vapor pressure deficit (VPD) of the air, and thereby increase transpiration rates, resulting in adverse effects on dryer sites, unless stomata close in response to other changes such as an increase in CO2, or if increases in night-time temperature exceed increases during the day (Kirschbaum, 2004)
  • The figure above depicts the distribution of the limiting factors to primary production in terms of water, sunlight, and temperature on a global scale
  • Very few forest types in this figure are solid colors, expressing variability in the dominance of limiting factors within a given year
  • For example, the productivity of temperate forests of northwestern North America may be radiation and temperature limited in winter, temperature limited in spring and water limited by midsummer
  • These controls depend on climate and are expressed as a mosaic of regionally varied impacts on forest systems
  • Temperature (heat) controls the rate of plant metabolism, which in turn determines the amount of photosynthesis that can take place
  • Most biological metabolic activity takes place within the range of 0–501 C (Hopkins & Hu¨ner, 2004); there is little activity above or below this range
  • The optimal temperatures for productivity coincide with 15–25 1C; the optimal range of photosynthesis (Hopkins & Hu¨ner, 2004)
  • Lethal levels are between 44 1C and 52 1C (Schulze et al.,2002)
  • Photosynthesis depends on radiation, increasing with increasing irradiance
  • Water is a principal requirement for photosynthesis and the main chemical component of most plant cells
  • In dry regions, there is a linear increase in NPP with increased water availability (Loik et al., 2004)

(Source: Celine Boisvenue &  Steven W. Running)

Figure 3: Localities with increased forest mortality related to climate stress from high temperature and draught (Source: Craig D Allen, 2009)

Forest Die-off by Continent

Click on each image to see more detailed image of die-off examples for each continent

Figure 4: Die-off by continent – Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America (Source: Craig D Allen, 2010)

Figure 2: Deforestration Infographic 1 (Source: Jonathan Krause)

Figure 3: Deforestration Infographic (Source: Jonathan Krause)

One way to mitigate the nearly 20 % GHG contribution by forestry is to channel billions of dollars per year into international forests conservation and management.

  • Forests can be 25 percent of the climate solution through 2020 and payments can be up to $20 billion
  • Forests could reduce carbon prices in developed nations by one-third through 2020
  • Brazil and Indonesia are likely to be the largest forest carbon suppliers in the medium term and nations in the Amazon-Andes and Central America are well positioned to contribute to near-term supplies
  • Public-sector investments are needed to build capacity and avoid shifting deforestation

Figure 4: Greenhouse Gas Contributions, 2007 (Source: UNEP 2012 Report: Keeping Track )


The Forest Carbon Index (FCI) compiles and displays global data relating to biological, economic, governance, investment, and market readiness conditions for every forest and country in the world, revealing the best places and countries for forest carbon investments. It estimates each nation’s potential to attract forest carbon investment based on profit potential and country-specific risk factors.

    • Profit Potential. Raw profit potential is calculated by subtracting the expected cost of managing a piece of land for forest carbon from expected forest carbon revenues. The Profit Potential Index measures profit potential by looking at biological and economic factors.
    • Risk. The Risk Index discounts raw profit potential by taking into account the institutional, technical, and political risks within a country, incorporating widely accepted data from the World Bank about governance conditions (including corruption) and ease of doing business.

To watch an html presentation, click here

Follow the 8 maps below to see how to invest. Click on each one to see larger map.

1. Above Ground Carbon Stock

2. Opportunity Cost of Land

3. Accessibility to Human Activity

4. Local Forest Carbon Costs

5. Profit Potential

6. Risk

7. Best Places

8. Country Score

(Source: Forest Carbon Index)

Responsible Forestry Management

Another important way to protect forest is to buy wood from sustainably managed and harvested companies. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the two largest forest certification bodies worldwide with slightly different approaches to management and certification, certify socially and environmentally responsible forestry.

An impressive annual 20% growth rate of labeled forests indicates that both producers and consumers are actively influencing timber production. Nevertheless, in 2010 still only about 10% of the total forest extent was managed under FSC and PEFC practices.

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is an international non-profit, non-governmental organization which promotes Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) through independent 3rd-party certification. PEFC works throughout the entire forest supply chain to promote good practice in the forest and to ensure that timber and non-timber forest products are produced with respect for the highest ecological, social & ethical standards. Thanks to its  eco-label, customers and consumers are able to identify products from sustainably managed forests.
FSC is a global, not-for-profit organization which promotes responsible forest management worldwide. FSC facilitates the development of standards, ensures monitoring of certified operations & protects the FSC trademark so consumers can choose products that come from well managed forests. FSC members include some of the world’s leading environmental NGOs (WWFand Greenpeace), businesses (Tetra Pak and Mondi PLC) and social organizations (the National Aboriginal Forestry Association of Canada) , forest owners and managers,  processing companies and campaigners, and individuals.

The Global Canopy Programme is an alliance of scientific institutions around the world, applying their combined knowledge and skills to protect forests and the vital ecosystem services they provide to humanity. The GCP takes a multidisciplinary approaches to meet the complex challenges facing forests. They have successfully built up policy and business programmes to complement  their science.

They have developed initiatives that have successfully targeted key threats to tropical forests:

The GCP Little Book Series

(Click on each book to download. All books link to the Global Canopy Programme website)

May 2012 – The Little Biodiversity Finance Book is the revised guide to proactive investment in natural capital (PINC) and an introduction to financing options for biodiversity and ecosystems services. The aim of the book is to help key stakeholders including governments, NGOs, the private sector, indigenous peoples and local communities to compare existing and future options for biodiversity and ecosystem finance in a clear and consistent way.

Nov 2011 – Understanding Forest Bonds is a non-technical guide to forest bonds and how they can help raise the USD tens of billions needed annually by 2020 in order to halve the rate of tropical deforestation by that year. It explains how bonds can be used to ‘frontload’ finance for planning, implementing and monitoring the conservation and sustainable use of tropical forests, so that these essential steps can be taken far sooner than would be possible if we wait for all other available mechanisms to be put in place. In addition to describing the different types of bond that can be used and how they would function, the authors also provide helpful insight into who might invest and which bonds could work best in different tropical forest regions, given the wide variation in their credit and political risk ratings.
July 2011 – Unlocking Forest Bonds reports on a high-level workshop on tropical forest finance held in London in February 2011. Bonds are a familiar financing mechanism in some sectors, such as health and energy, and are seeing increased use to finance mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. Bonds may be useful for financing forests too. The workshop brought together a broad range of experts on tropical forest policy and finance to highlight the specific challenges of using a bond for the conservation and sustainable use of forests, and how those challenges may be overcome. The workshop was co-hosted by GCP, WWF’s Forest and Climate Initiative and the Climate Bonds Initiative, and supported by Goldman Sachs and Foundation 1796 (Lombard Odier).

July 2011 – A report of a capacity-building project to design a research agenda on the links between the natural capital of Amazonian forests and water, food, health, livelihood, climate and energy securities.

Dec 2009 – The scale of financing needed to tackle climate change is far greater than the current level of commitment from developed countries. There is no more pressing issue at the UNFCCC, and the Little Climate Finance Book is a guide to the multitude of proposals for addressing it. The different proposals are presented using clear non-technical language, and a visual framework that allows the options to be understood and compared at a glance. The Little Climate Finance Book is presented in three sections corresponding to the three key areas of international climate negotiations: revenue generation, the options for delivery of finance and the proposals for institutional arrangements.  The book also compares the different options and draws conclusions across these different areas. The Little Climate Finance Book has been developed by the Global Canopy Programme in collaboration with key experts from the Overseas Development Institute, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and the Australian National University.

Nov 2008 – Launched at the UNFCCC climate summit in December 2008 The Little REDD Book is a guide to the UN negotiations on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). REDD aims to help halt deforestation, which causes around 20% of the world’s carbon emissions – more than the entire global transport sector. In addition, the mechanism could help fight poverty while conserving biodiversity and sustaining vital ecosystem services. REDD has evolved rapidly since it was introduced to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2005. With 6 months to go until the landmark meeting in Copenhagen where agreement must be reached, over 30 governmental and non-governmental proposals are on the table. The Little REDD Book aims to bring clarity to this complex and rapidly-evolving area by providing insights and information on the process in non-technical language. The Little REDD Book has recently been updated to reflect the latest research and submissions on REDD and includes a new analytical framework.

Nov 2008 – Funded by the European Climate Foundation, we have compiled this report to give an overview of the ecosystem services provided to humanity, the effects of deforestation and its contribution to climate change, detailing the drivers, implications and potential solutions to reduce it. It is intended to act as a guide for non-specialist stakeholders addressing these issues within Governments and the private sector.

Sept 2008 – Growing evidence suggests that deforestation will have a significant impact on the global hydrological cycle (Pielke et al. 2002) and the carbon cycle. Although the latter is the focus of most international policy concern, the former also provides a rationale for remedial action to curb deforestation and promote the conservation of the world’s tropical forests. The future security of the world’s forests rests on accounting for the immense climatic and hydrological value of tropical forests in global markets, rather than on simple carbon arithmetic.

May 2008 – A case study of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mar 2008 – According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ecosystem services are the “benefits that people obtain from ecosystems”. Forests are like giant utilities providing ecosystem services to the world that we all benefit from but we don’t pay for. Apart from carbon storage and sequestration, they include water storage, rainfall generation, climate buffering, biodiversity, soil stabilisation and more. Forests are cleared due in part to poverty, but increasingly due to the demands for land to produce commodities like beef, soy and palm oil. Globally, deforestation results in the annual loss of rainforest biodiversity and ecosystem services worth as much as the London stock exchange. Is this loss greater than the value of the alternative uses of the land? This GCP report assesses the latest information on the value of rainforest biodiversity and ecosystem services and shows that in most cases rainforests are worth more alive than dead.

June 11-14, 2006 – Report on India’s first Forest Canopy Workshop Bangalore
Click to Enlarge Image
Deforestation: Our Disappearing Woodlands |
Infographic by CustomMade