(Emma Askew, 2018)
Forest ecosystems play a crucial role in the global carbon budget and provide a range of important environmental and socio-economic services, yet over the last 25 years the global forest area has declined considerably. The ‘tropical’ forest type is globally the most significant as a carbon store, yet the tropical regions are also responsible for 32% of the earth’s forest loss. Deforestation is also accountable for 12% of the global carbon dioxide emissions, exacerbating climate change. Yet, there has been insufficient research quantifying forest area change and its impact on carbon dioxide emissions. With this, when quantified forest area change is used in combination with carbon stock estimates, effective mitigation can be developed to reduce carbon emissions to ensure forest carbon stocks can be sufficiently conserved for large-scale, long-term environmental benefits.
In Guyana, Caribbean coast of South America, deforestation drivers are predominantly mineral extraction, infrastructure use and logging. However, the Guyanese government has recognised the urgency in preventing further devastation from deforestation and is committed to reducing its deforestation issue through a Low Carbon Development Strategy and their agreement with the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) programme since 2009. Yet, despite the efforts to enforce sustainable forest practices, the local economic pressures had increased due to the forest’s high value as a resource, such as abundant mineral deposits. As a result, this study measured the change in forest area and tree carbon storage in a 62,429ha sized study area to identify the significance of tropical deforestation in Guyana from 2012 to 2013, to analyse how effective deforestation management had been in the county amongst external socio-economic pressures.
Below is a digitalised map showing the forest area change from 2012 to 2013 using RapidEye satellite imagery. This shows how the distribution of deforestation predominantly occurred in the south-east and central region of the study area. The yellow areas represent areas of deforestation that were already present in the year 2012, and the blue areas represent the additional areas of deforestation by 2013. The edited colouration of the satellite forest image was used for the accurate identification of the deforested areas:
By 2013, the total area deforested in the study area came to 1,043ha, in which the total area of deforestation came to 835ha in 2012 with an additional 208ha deforested in 2013. The forest area change resulted in a 0.35% increase in deforestation between 2012-2013, yet when compared to data from Guyana’s Forestry Commission (GFC) it was predicted to be a higher 0.48%; indicating issues with uncertainty and limitations with satellite imagery (including cloud coverage). However, it is important to consider that although there was an increase in deforestation by 208ha, there was an overall decrease in forest area change.
With this, the carbon emissions from deforestation events in 2012 came to 76,640,8 t C, and 19,852 t C in 2013; resulting in 99,493.3 t C emissions from 2012-2013. Although this magnitude of carbon emission should be considered as an environmental threat, it should be recognised that 2013 had lower carbon dioxide emissions that 2012 from deforestation. This indicates that the REDD+ scheme had a successful impact in increasing sustainable forestry practices, and this suggests that with a decrease in both forest area change and carbon emissions that the management programme in Guyana is acting sufficiently.
To summarise, although the forest area change and carbon stock/emission estimations act as a strong indicator of the success of Guyana’s sustainable forestry practices, the calculation of these estimates are ultimately limited by high uncertainty. With this, the further development of accurate estimates is vital to improve forest management schemes. As well as, a modified method could be applied to measure global forest area change; providing further information on the importance of tropical forests in the global carbon cycle, and influencing management/policy actions needed to reduce carbon emissions at a global scale.