"It's well known that about half of the 'missing' carbon is being dissolved in to the oceans, and that the other half is going somewhere on land in vegetation and soils, but we were not sure precisely where. According to our study about half the total carbon 'land sink' is in tropical forest trees," explains Dr Lewis.
The study is released at a time when protecting tropical forests is gaining widespread support, and is likely to be a key theme of the upcoming negotiations to limit carbon emissions in Copenhagen later this year.
Co-author on the study, Dr Lee White, Gabon's Chief Climate Change Scientist said, "To get an idea of the value of the sink, the removal of nearly 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by intact tropical forests, based on realistic prices for a tonne of carbon, should be valued at around 13 billion per year. This is a compelling argument for conserving tropical forests."
"Predominantly rich polluting countries should be transferring substantial resources to countries with tropical forests to reduce deforestation rates and promote alternative development pathways," says Dr Lewis.
There are also broader implications for rainforest biodiversity, as the ecology of tropical forests changes. Further study is needed on how the interactions of the millions of species that live in the tropics are being affected by the increasing size of rainforest trees.
|Contact: Clare Ryan|
University of Leeds