Is saving rainforests the best way of fixing climate change?

Restoring the planet’s tropical rainforests is a win win win for everyone

Giant Sloth © Chris Redston Three-toed sloth © Chris Redston

As the world struggles to address the challenge of climate change, one simple and cost-effective solution to the problem is often overlooked. Protecting and restoring the planet’s tropical rainforests could constitute half the solution to climate change, according to a peer-reviewed article in Nature. So why isn’t rainforest protection central to the climate change debate, and how can we make more people aware of the role that rainforests play in the fight against global warming? 

We all know that rainforests are the home of charismatic endangered species such as orangutans, elephants, jaguars, lemurs and scarlet macaws. What is perhaps less well-known is that rainforests also store massive amounts of carbon, much of which is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) if a forest is cleared for palm oil plantations, cattle ranches or mining. In contrast, a thriving rainforest pulls huge quantities of CO2 out of the atmosphere, as the natural growth of the trees converts this dangerous greenhouse gas back into carbon (which is stored in the wood) and oxygen (rainforests produce about 20% of the oxygen we breathe). Rainforests also help stabilise global weather systems, provide vital habitat for hundreds of endangered species and home to millions of indigenous people, and produce much of the world’s fresh water. In short, people can’t really live without them.

Macaw © Chris Redston Red-lored parrot © Chris Redston

While it is vital that we transition away from the use of fossil fuels and embrace the green energy revolution to combat climate change, the truth is that rainforest protection can happen much more quickly – and it’s also incredibly cost-effective. For example, one acre of Amazon rainforest in Peru, which stores up to 180 metric tonnes of CO2, can be protected for just a few pounds; the same is true elsewhere in Latin America and Africa. For the price of a sandwich and a coffee, each of us could save an area of forest about the size of four football pitches and safely store about 725 metric tonnes of CO2. To put this into context, a recent study by the Carbon Trust puts the annual carbon footprint of the average Briton at 10.92 metric tonnes of CO2. It’s therefore no exaggeration to say that saving a few acres of rainforest is probably the single most effective thing that any individual can do to offset their carbon footprint and fight climate change. 

Rainforest Trust UK is a British charity working in partnership with Rainforest Trust in the US to protect threatened rainforests and other tropical habitats. Since 1988 Rainforest Trust has placed over 17.6 million acres of tropical forest under protection – and we’re just getting started! We’ve set an ambitious target to protect 50 million acres by 2020, aided by a generous supporter who has promised to double all project donations to the charity. 

To find out more about our current projects, please visit our Projects Page. If you wish to make a tax-efficient donation from the UK, please go to our Donations page and click on the British flag. The rainforests – and your grandchildren – will thank you for it! 

Chris Redston, Executive Director, Rainforest Trust UK

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