Climate change is happening now, and the world must respond immediately to prevent catastrophic impacts. Already we see the earliest evidence in melting ice caps, increased storms, floods, fires and drought, and dying coral reefs. Extinction rates are the highest in human history, threatening Earth’s ecosystems and the fundamental benefits they provide — food, clean air, fresh water, climate regulation, storm buffering and countless others. All people are affected, especially the poor who depend most directly on nature for daily sustenance.
To confront this threat to the present and future health of life on Earth, nations of the world must work together to both mitigate climate change — drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent catastrophic warming — and adapt to the significant warming that already is inevitable.
It is nature itself that provides the most valuable and essential first step.
Until relatively recently in human history, nature kept Earth’s climate in balance. Then the Industrial Revolution increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, resulting in the climate change we experience today. Restoring nature’s balance by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening Earth’s ecosystems is a logical and effective response.
Halting or slowing the destruction of Earth’s remaining tropical forests is an immediate way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Forest systems remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it – helping to lessen the cause of climate change. In fact, burning and clearing tropical forests accounts for at least 20 percent of global carbon emissions — more than all the world’s cars, truck, ships, planes and trains combined.
Intact ecosystems help us cope with — or adapt to — global warming. For instance, mangrove forests prevent coastal erosion from more powerful storms and protect freshwater supplies as sea levels rise. Coral reefs help buffer the impact of storms and play a key role in sustaining critical marine resources such as fish populations. Forest systems are habitat for thousands of threatened species, and provide water, food, fiber and other services that support people.
Guyana’s Role in the Climate Challenge
Research shows that Guyana’s forests store 250 to 400 tons or more of carbon dioxide per hectare. If the Guyanese forests are cleared, hundreds of millions of tons of carbon would enter the atmosphere, worsening global warming.
Like only a few other countries, Guyana has so far conserved its forests, providing the world the benefits of carbon sequestration without compensation. However, development pressures are increasing the burning and clearing of tropical forests as governments seek to combat poverty and provide for their people.
In this age of climate change, the global community needs to develop incentives for developing nations such as Guyana to conserve their tropical forests for both the climate change benefits and the irreplaceable resources and services they provide.