November 12, 2009 / 4:54 PM / in 8 years

Boreal forests store carbon, need help: Canada study

<p>The Alaska Highway is surrounded by boreal forest running north towards Whitehorse, Yukon in this file photo taken June 21, 2007. REUTERS/Andy Clark/Files</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The world needs to do more to protect boreal forests and peatlands, which store more carbon than any other ecosystem and help mitigate the effects of climate change, a Canadian report issued Thursday said.

Boreal forests, found in northern areas like Canada, Russia, Scandinavia and parts of the United States, cover 11 percent of the earth and store 22 percent of all carbon on the land surface in soil, permafrost, peatlands and wetlands.

"Action is needed to conserve a region that contains 'The carbon the world forgot'," said the 36-page report from the Canadian Boreal Initiative, an environmental group (here).

The report said the 208.1 billion tonnes of carbon estimated to be stored by Canada’s boreal forest and peatland was equivalent to 26 years worth of the world’s 2006 carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning.

It’s not clear if the Canadian government, which walked away from the Kyoto Protocol climate pact, might use the report as a possible way to win concessions in international talks on curbing greenhouse gas emission.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that climate talks in Copenhagen next month should take account the role of the ability of Russia’s forests to absorb carbon dioxide when setting climate change targets.

The Canadian report said boreal forests and peatland had a net cooling effect on the climate because they can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground.

But these gases are released when the forests are logged or soils are disturbed, accelerating global warming, it said.

The report complained that the Kyoto climate pact focused almost exclusively on tropical forests, offered no incentives for forest conservation and excluded peatlands.

“Because the boreal forest is the largest terrestrial carbon storehouse on earth, keeping the boreal carbon reservoir in place is essential to avoid accelerating climate change.”

The United Nations hopes a major climate meeting in Copenhagen in December will lead to a broader framework to expand or replace Kyoto, whose first phase ends in 2012.

“Any effective and affordable response to climate change should include preserving the world’s remaining, carbon-rich old-growth forests,” said Steve Kallick, of the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign.

This would require drastic cuts in industrial emissions and a vast increase in the area designated off limits to the kinds of industrial disturbances likely to release more carbon into the atmosphere, the report said.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman

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