REDD myth no.1: Deforestation accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions

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Myth: “Deforestation accounts for 25 percent of all man-made emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.”

That statement comes from a 2005 press release from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. A year later, FAO had decided that the figure was too low:

in fact between 25 and 30 percent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year … is caused by deforestation.

In its 2007 report, the IPCC estimated that deforestation accounted for 17% of emissions.

Two years later, in a paper published in Nature Geoscience, Guido van der Werf and colleagues, argued that the figure was actually closer to 12%. While estimates of the rate of deforestation globally are fairly steady, emissions from burning fossil fuels are increasing rapidly. As such, the percentage of emissions from deforestation is falling.

A graph in the paper illustrates this clearly:

At the end of 2012, research teams from Winrock International and Woods Hole Research Center produced a joint study. Their conclusion was that,

“Tropical deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions.”

The figures for deforestation used to produce this figure were between 2000 and 2005. Since then emissions from fossil fuels have increased and deforestation accounts for a lower percentage of global emissions today.

Of course this does not mean that the problem of deforestation is solved. Far from it. But deforestation accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions – a number that is falling.

On its website, UN-REDD still uses the 20% figure:

Deforestation and forest degradation, through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging, fires etc., account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.

I’ve written to the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat and asked why they continue to use a figure that is almost double the most recent research. I’ll post their response in the comments.

This is the first in an occasional series of REDD myths on REDD-Monitor. If you have suggestions for other “REDD myths”, please let me know in the comments.


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  1. Thanks for this series posts
    I wanted to know if these myths exist in Spanish

  2. Good post. IPCC AR5 should have the most recent figures. Here are some suggestions for myths: “offsetting schemes generate emission reductions” (zero sum game); “carbon markets are a tool to financing developing countries’ mitigation efforts” (they are not climate financing at all, their function is to facilitate compliance of mitigation commitments by developed countris); “a ton is a ton” (meaning a ton of CO2eq in forests are the same as a ton of CO2eq from fossil fuels); “REDD = forest governance” or “REDD = forest financing” (talk about missing the forest for the trees…); “you need markets to finance forests” ….

  3. Yes, I agree this issue needs to be covered. However there is an enormous unnoticed Elephant here, which I actually wrote of last week:

    Year, on year, on year, on year, on year, on year, on year, on year………………………………. going back over ten thousand years.

    Cheers Chris. I really appreciate your toils in producing your REDD critiques, they are an invaluable record,

    Chris Hemmings
    O/C FTT

  4. @Yvonne Yanez (#1) – Thanks for this question. The answer is that this series is not available in Spanish (at least not yet), but I think it’s an excellent idea. If and when I manage to get it translated I’ll let you know.

  5. You were right: IPCC AR5 WGIII: FOLU accounted for 11% of world´s emission in 2010(Figure SPM.1 p. 7), with uncertainties of around %50 , which means it was between 5.5 and 16.5%… The higher estimations seems unlikely as the tendency was the lowering of emissions.

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