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February 2010

Tropical Land-Use Change Emissions—Smaller, but Still Very Significant

Carlos A. Nobre's picture
  Photo ©

Before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) held in December 2009 in Copenhagen, the Brazilian media picked up the issue of REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). A variety of somewhat conflicting statements came from all quarters: the scientific community, government authorities, environmental NGOs and other interest groups. As expected, they spanned a wide range of views on the issue.

Broadly speaking, tropical deforestation has been declining. Thus, a fundamental question has been put forward: are land-use change emissions of GHGs quantitatively significant enough to warrant a special mechanism under the UNFCCC? Some critics of REDD maintain that emissions from tropical land-use change are not as large as has been assumed, and that it is not as important as emissions from other sectors such as fossil fuel combustion.

Even before I get into the details, let me emphasize that tropical deforestation and REDD are still just as significant as before, and as important, for instance, as the share from transportation emissions. As I will describe in this post, the latest calculations using new data that has become available after the last IPCC report (2007)—following the same methodology as the IPCC—shows that the share of tropical land-use change in overall CO2 emissions has fallen. However, looking at the big picture, tropical deforestation is still a massive issue to tackle in the battle against climate change and attention should not be diverted from REDD. 

Disasters: what is the cost ?

Julia Bucknall's picture

Buried under the most snow since records have been kept, as we are right now in Washington, the mind turns naturally to the effects of  extreme weather events. Clearly the impacts for those of us with solid housing and uninterrupted WiFi access are minimal compared with the impacts of extreme weather for most people in the world.  But even here we can see a combination of effects -- the costs of closing offices or of running through the whole winter's supply of firewood in  one week, at the same time as the economic uptick for those who repair household boilers, restore downed power lines or dig people's cars out  of the snow or shovel their sidewalks for a fee. Since climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather  events, figuring out the net cost of natural disasters is an important topic.  And figuring out sensible ways to reduce those costs is also  going to be increasingly important.

At the World Bank last week, we had an interesting seminar from Stéphane Hallegate from the French International Centre for Research on Environment and Development and the National Meteorology School that shed light on some of these issues. Stéphane has modelled the impacts of a number of natural disasters looking at both the direct costs of  the disaster (how much does it cost to rebuild structures that were destroyed?) and the indirect costs (what is the cost of a business  being closed for several months net of any local economic benefits that may occur as reconstruction starts). 

Why care? Because climate and development are inextricably linked

Ricardo Fuentes's picture

Hopenhagen – that magical place of bright future days – is a few weeks behind us and the public interest in climate change is in slow decline – at least according to Google Trends . This is normal. Big meetings create lots of news and expectations and there is often disappointment and exhaustion in their wake. Couple that with the recent concerns about some of the results of specific scientific research, and it seems that the debate on climate change is in a bad place, doomed to irrelevance.

Well, it should not be. Regardless of overcrowded meetings and leaked emails in academic departments, the world’s climate is changing fast (NASA reports that  009 ties with a cluster of other years as the second-warmest year on record since 1880 and the decade 2000-2009 was the warmest 10-year period). Climate change will add pressures to our already difficult development challenges. We care about climate change because it can derail several development efforts undertaken in recent decades.

The channels linking climate change to development are numerous but most of them involve water (or the lack of it). Droughts, floods, storm surges and changes in rainfall patterns affect the livelihoods of poor people, their nutrition, their security, their future opportunities and probably those of their children. Poorly designed policies to reduce the threat of climate change can exacerbate the problem. One such policy is carbon-intensive economic growth; as mentioned in the first chapter of the World Development Report, “countries cannot grow out of harm’s way fast enough to match the changing climate.” Economic growth is necessary for development, but it needs to become less greenhouse-gas intensive.