ISLAMABAD: The cutting down and burning of forests has contributed as much to global warming as the burning of fossil fuels and efforts are being made to re-vitalise the forestry sector, said Federal Climate Change Minister Mushahid Ullah Khan on Tuesday.

“We cannot protect the country from the devastating impacts of climate change unless deforestation is stopped. Forests can help against the impacts of climate change,” he told a national consultative meeting on a World Bank funded programme called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

Experts from the forestry sectors of various countries had come together to discuss various technical and policy options to increase tree cover as part of the country’s climate resilience efforts.

REDD+ is a UN-led mechanism which supports countries’ efforts for reducing heat trapping carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, forest conservation, sustainable management of forests and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Participants observed that most people assumed global warming was caused by burning oil, gas and coal when in fact, between 25pc and 30pc of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year or an estimated 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide was caused by deforestation, mainly the cutting and burning of forests.

Participants were told that the same amount of climate-altering carbon dioxide gases released from fossil fuel burning through any source can be removed from the atmosphere to stabilise climate change by halting deforestation.

The climate change minister said international studies showed that deforestation and land degradation accounted for a major share in overall global carbon emissions annually.

Quoting studies by UN Food and Agriculture, Mr Khan said trees are 50pc carbon.

“But when chopped down or burned, the carbon dioxide they store makes its way back into the air,” he said, adding that an ambitious World Bank funded REDD+ program worth $3.8 million had already been launched in the country which will help forest owners in accessing money for forest protection.

The minister pointed out that lack of access to energy for cooking and heating in households, illegal tree cutting, population growth and associated wood demand surge, changes in land cover for non-forestry uses, land erosion and degradation are among the major causes of deforestation in the country.

“Controlling deforestation in the country is not possible without increasing access to renewable and alternative energy sources, particularly for cooking and heating in households, reducing the occurrence of land erosion and landslides by strengthening forested mountain slopes with vegetation and increasing public awareness about the positive effects of forests on the overall environment, human health and bio-diversity,” the minister said.

He added that the involvement of locals, community based organisations and educational institutions were key to bringing new life into the country’s unwell forestry sector.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2017

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