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Day 6: Rainforests – the lungs of the Earth

Our planet’s rainforests play a major part in climate change. The deforestation that takes place in these unique ecosystems contributes around a fifth of global CO2 emissions. Keeping rainforest standing is the simplest and cheapest way to mitigate climate change. Despite this, we are losing the world’s rainforests at an ever faster rate. They generate a fifth of the world’s oxygen, yet of the world’s remaining rainforests, 46% are fragmented, 30% are degraded and only less than one quarter are left fully intact.

It is not just the climate which will benefit from protecting forest. Rainforests are home to 350 million people globally. Around 1.6 billion people also depend on rainforests for their livelihoods and survival. This means nearly one in four people in the world rely directly or indirectly upon them. It’s not only humans: our rainforests are home to a rich tapestry of biodiversity. Despite only covering 6% of the world’s land surface, they contain two thirds of all biodiversity. 99% of this is still to be studied and could yield new exciting discoveries, some that could be revolutionary in the world of medicine. From slowing down climate change to improving human health, the value of the world’s main rainforest areas should not be under-estimated.

What eco actions can we take?

Citizens every citizen on this planet has a role to play in helping to protect the rainforests. Actions which can be taken include: eating less meat, as cattle farming is one of the leading causes of deforestation, especially in the Amazon; avoiding palm oil products where possible, as unsustainable palm oil plantations are currently the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia; and if you are buying new timber based products, make sure to look for the FSC mark: this accredits products that are grown and harvested sustainably. And finally why not donate to a charity like Cool Earth that directly protects rainforest.

Civil society: Communities everywhere can rise to the challenge. Spread awareness of what’s at stake over these 12 days of COPmas and lobby companies and governments to ensure their procurement policies include making sure they buy, and sell, only FSC certified products and that the palm oil they use is sustainably sourced.

Corporates: Businesses, from the blue chip multinational, through to the micro SME and start-ups, have a huge role to play in the protection of the rainforest. Manufacturers and retailers should only by selling FSC goods, and sustainability sourced palm oil. For an even bigger impact, businesses can partner with Cool Earth to help protect rainforest directly.

Blog post: Rainforests – why they matter

Half of the world’s rainforest has been destroyed in the last 40 years. It continues to be lost at an ever increasing rate. Protecting the remaining rainforests is pivotal to the climate change agenda because of their crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But forest also provide a habitat for incredible biodiversity, and livelihoods for millions of people.

Rainforests are carbon sinks. Trees have hidden attributes that play a key role in reducing pollutant levels. Take carbon dioxide (CO2) for example, a gas emitted from both natural and human sources. Rainforests absorb huge quantities of this greenhouse gas through photosynthesis. Trees and vegetation take CO2 and effectively lock it into their structures, keeping it safe from the atmosphere for hundreds of years. This is known as a ‘carbon sink’.

However, what forests take from the atmosphere, they can also give back. When forests are burnt to clear the land, carbon matter is released in the form of CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Organisations and governments are working towards preventing the destruction of rainforests as part of their efforts to keep warming below two degrees. Cool Earth is focusing where the biggest impact can be made – in areas on the brink of rapid deforestation. The charity has protected more than 500,000 acres of rainforest that would otherwise have been destroyed: the equivalent of 130,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide not reaching the atmosphere, where it would contribute to global warming.

Biodiversity An estimated two thirds of the world’s biodiversity is found in the rainforests, despite them only covering around 6% of the world’s surface. The Amazon alone is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity. A very large number of Amazonian plant and animal species are “endemic”, meaning that they are not found anywhere else in the world. Recent estimates indicate that in the Amazon there are 18,000 varieties of plants, 434 species of mammals, 239 reptile species, 225 species of amphibians, and more freshwater fish and primates than anywhere else on the planet. Deforestation is damaging this biodiversity irreparably.

As rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Approximately half of all synthetic drugs have a natural origin, including 10 of the 25 biggest-selling drugs in the US. The US National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest.

More broadly, biological diversity is the resource upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. If there is a biodiversity crisis, our health, livelihoods and economy are at risk too.

Bottom up or top down? Rainforest loss is not just a crisis for the planet but a tragedy for local people who depend upon the forest  their entire livelihoods. Cool Earth believe it is these people who are best positioned to stop deforestation. It’s an effective example of ‘bottom up’ rainforest protection which harnesses the power of the local people to protect it. The model builds up the resilience of these indigenous communities, which is essential for the survival of these vital ecosystems. Top down agreements like those we hope will come from the COP21 discussions are also vital. Strong national and international laws and conventions creates a framework and structure that helps to support and strengthen the work that is being carried out on the ground.

Today’s theme has been brought to you by eco action games and Cool Earth.

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