12. All states shall negotiate to preserve and protect forests and enhance carbon sinks

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Rapporteur: Metta Spencer

Carbon Sinks

A carbon sink is a reservoir that stores carbon, keeping it sequestered instead of circulating in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Plants, the ocean, and soil are the main carbon sinks in nature. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air for use in photosynthesis, leaving some of this carbon in the soil when they die and decompose. The oceans also store much of the planet’s carbon dioxide.

All of these sinks are being ruined by human activities today, and heroic measures are required to protect them and use them even more extensively to sequester carbon and prevent runaway global warming. Here we will examine these natural carbon sinks as well as some technological inventions that are being proposed for use in capturing and storing or recycling carbon.


Some nations occupy land with large carbon sinks such as rainforests. And some nations — especially the industrially advanced ones — emit disproportionate amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We are all being challenged now to reduce such emissions, mainly by using less fossil fuel. People living in rich countries find this especially hard to do, for we are accustomed to the use of abundant energy. At the same time, we are asking people in the less developed countries not to adopt the same greenhouse gas-emitting technologies that had made us rich. This is unfair, but it is also essential. Every country must cut back, including both those that caused most of the global warming problem itself and those blameless ones that will be forced unjustly to sacrifice. But naturally, not all countries seem willing to accept the necessary deprivations.

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I am cross-posting this from Overview: Pandemics as the article bears significant relevance to both of these sections.

This is a very interesting article from The Editors at Scientific America in regards to the connection between deforestation and pandemics.

Title: Stopping Deforestation Can Prevent Pandemics
Author: The Editors (Scientific America)
Publication(s): Scientific America
Date: 1 May 2020
Link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stopping-deforestation-can-prevent-pandemics/

Article Excerpt(s):

“SARS, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2: all three of these highly infectious viruses have caused global panic since 2002—and all three of them jumped to humans from wild animals that live in dense tropical forests.

Three quarters of the emerging pathogens that infect humans leaped from animals, many of them creatures in the forest habitats that we are slashing and burning to create land for crops, including biofuel plants, and for mining and housing. The more we clear, the more we come into contact with wildlife that carries microbes well suited to kill us—and the more we concentrate those animals in smaller areas where they can swap infectious microbes, raising the chances of novel strains. Clearing land also reduces biodiversity, and the species that survive are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. All these factors will lead to more spillover of animal pathogens into people.

Stopping deforestation will not only reduce our exposure to new disasters but also tamp down the spread of a long list of other vicious diseases that have come from rain forest habitats—Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera and HIV among them. A 2019 study found that a 10 percent increase in deforestation would raise malaria cases by 3.3 percent; that would be 7.4 million people worldwide. Yet despite years of global outcry, deforestation still runs rampant. An average of 28 million hectares of forest have been cut down annually since 2016, and there is no sign of a slowdown.

Societies can take numerous steps to prevent the destruction. Eating less meat, which physicians say will improve our health anyway, will lessen demand for crops and pastures. Eating fewer processed foods will reduce the demand for palm oil—also a major feedstock for biofuels—much of which is grown on land clear-cut from tropical rain forests. The need for land also will ease if nations slow population growth—something that can happen in developing nations only if women are given better education, equal social status with men and easy access to affordable contraceptives.

Producing more food per hectare can boost supply without the need to clear more land. Developing crops that better resist drought will help, especially as climate change brings longer, deeper droughts. In dry regions of Africa and elsewhere, agroforestry techniques such as planting trees among farm fields can increase crop yields. Reducing food waste could also vastly lessen the pressure to grow more; 30 to 40 percent of all food produced is wasted.

As we implement these solutions, we can also find new outbreaks earlier. Epidemiologists want to tiptoe into wild habitats and test mammals known to carry coronaviruses—bats, rodents, badgers, civets, pangolins and monkeys—to map how the germs are moving. Public health officials could then test nearby humans. To be effective, though, this surveillance must be widespread and well funded. In September 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it would end funding for PREDICT, a 10-year effort to hunt for threatening microbes that found more than 1,100 unique viruses. USAID says it will launch a new surveillance program; we urge it to supply enough money this time to cast a wider and stronger net.

In the meantime, governments should prohibit the sale of live wild animals in so-called wet markets, where pathogens have repeatedly crossed over into humans. The markets may be culturally important, but the risk is too great. Governments must also crack down on illegal wildlife trade, which can spread infectious agents far and wide. In addition, we have to examine factory farms that pack thousands of animals together—the source of the 2009 swine flu outbreak that killed more than 10,000 people in the U.S. and multitudes worldwide.

Ending deforestation and thwarting pandemics would address six of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals: the guarantee of healthy lives, zero hunger, gender equality, responsible consumption and production, sustainably managed land, and climate action (intact tropical forests absorb carbon dioxide, whereas burning them sends more CO2 into the atmosphere).

The COVID-19 pandemic is a catastrophe, but it can rivet our attention on the enormous payoffs that humanity can achieve by not overexploiting the natural world. Pandemic solutions are sustainability solutions.”

As the cherry blossom season arrives in many North American cities, I thought this article – which discusses research out of South Korea on the potential of cherry trees as carbon sinks – would be of interest and relevance.

Title: Single Cherry Tree Can Offset 20 Pounds Of Carbon Emissions Each Year, New Study Says
Author: Slisco, Aila
Publication(s): Newsweek
Date: 7 April 2020
Link: https://www.newsweek.com/single-cherry-tree-can-offset-20-pounds-carbon-emissions-each-year-new-study-says-1496698

Article Excerpt(s):

“South Korean researchers say that cherry trees could be used to combat climate change, with the ability to offset greenhouse gases.

A study from South Korea’s Forest Research Institute indicated that each 25-year-old cherry tree can absorb about 20 pounds of emissions each, according to a Tuesday report from UPI.

The country’s cherry trees are said to be capable of absorbing about 2.4 tons of carbon, roughly equivalent to the emissions of 6,000 cars per year. Thee emissions of a single car can be absorbed by 250 mature trees.

Cherry trees are currently blooming in South Korea and viewing them at this time is a popular activity in the country, although restrictions currently in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic have limited the practice.

The amount of carbon absorbed by cherry trees may pale in comparison to other types of trees, with Black walnut, horse-chestnut, Douglas fir and pine trees among some that are thought to be especially adept.

The average mature tree can absorb 48 tons per year according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Trees absorb emissions with a system of respiration that also releases oxygen. The carbon that is absorbed by trees is then sequestered in trunks, roots, branches and leaves. Trees that have reached at least 20 years of age are believed to absorb carbon better than young or very old trees.

A significant amount of carbon is eventually released back into the atmosphere, typically within a couple hundred years as the trees die and decay. Small amounts are also released during respiration and the overall amount of carbon that trees can capture is also finite.

Environmentalists have long proposed planting massive amounts of trees in an effort to counter climate change and many government programs around the world have already been planting trees to help increase forested areas.

Research from 2019 indicated that up to two thirds of emissions currently in the atmosphere could be absorbed, leading some scientists to promote tree-planting as a powerful tool to combat climate change.

“[Forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” researcher Professor Tom Crowther of the Swiss university ETH Zürich told The Guardian. “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

However, other scientists have been less enthusiastic and insist that reducing overall emissions remains the most effective strategy to mitigate climate change. In order for tree-planting have a significant effect on the climate, a trillion trees may need to be planted.

Although opinions are divided, some have warned against relying on mass tree-planting schemes due to risks of upsetting the biodiversity of areas where the trees are planted.

“There is an idea that you can just buy land and plant trees but that’s too simplistic—there is a risk of doing more harm than good,” Nathalie Seddon, professor of biodiversity at the University of Oxford, told the BBC.”

I am shocked there is not a separate section on this site for invasive species management – particularly as these are linked to ecological decline.

Professor Spencer recently shared this fascinating article with me. The article discusses the importance of three key tree species in global rainforests: the Brazil nut tree; Rhizophora (a type of mangrove); and the African teak tree.

Title: These 3 Supertrees Can Protect Us From Climate Collapse: But Can We Protect Them?
Author: Barclay, Eliza; Irfan, Umair; and McConnell, Tristan
Publication(s): VOX
Date: 12 December 2019
Link: https://www.vox.com/a/supertrees
Notes: The article contains a mix of graphics, images, and text. Well worth the read! I was additionally shocked to learn that “Rainforests get a lot of credit for being carbon sinks. But scientists have discovered that an acre of mangroves can store five to 10 times as much carbon as an acre of rainforest.”

Article Excerpt(s):


“Dozens of countries have extraordinary tropical forests, but three stand out: Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These countries not only have the largest areas of tropical forest within their borders, they also have the highest rates of deforestation.

We traveled to protected areas deep inside these countries to learn the superpowers of three tree species that play an unusually important part in staving off environmental disaster, not just locally, but globally. These trees play many ecological roles, but most impressive is how they produce rainfall, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and support hundreds of other species.

If these ecosystems collapse, the climate effects are likely to be irreversible. And so what happens to these forests truly affects all life on Earth.

This is the story of three trees at the center of our climate crisis that provide big benefits to you, me, and the world. Meet the trees, get to know their superpowers, and learn how scientists are trying to protect them.”

Thunder Bay, Ontario was recently recognized by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) for its exemplary urban forest management practices. Perhaps there is opportunity for other municipalities and regions – both in Canada and elsewhere globally – to strive towards Thunder Bay’s urban forestry practices and standards.

Title: Thunder Bay recognized for forestry management
Author: CBC Thunder Bay
Date: 11 February 2020
News Agency: CBC Canada: Thunder Bay
Link: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/thunder-bay-recognized-for-forestry-management-1.5458612

Article Excerpt:

Thunder Bay is among nine other Canadian cities being recognized for their commitment to urban forestry management by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Arbor Day Foundation.

The Tree Cities of the World list was released last week, and includes cities from across the world and in Canada, including Edmonton, Toronto, Halifax, and Regina, in addition to Thunder Bay.

Robert Scott, Emerald Ash Borer Services Coordinator with Parks and Open Spaces, Forestry and Horticulture at the City of Thunder Bay, hopes the designation will bring more attention to green infrastructure in Thunder Bay.

“It’s really exciting that we could be recognized as a Tree City of the world alongside Toronto and Edmonton and Halifax,” he said. “Those are places that you would think of as a little greener than Thunder Bay.”

Scott said that despite the size of Thunder Bay, the city has all the same tree and forest management strategies as larger cities, which allowed for the city to receive the designation.

“We have a very good management strategy for these trees and it should be recognized throughout the city as something we should continue and build upon, especially as we face climate change,” Scott said. “The city has declared a climate emergency, so I think this really ties into the sustainability of Thunder Bay as a whole.”

The city had to meet a number of standards to be considered for the designation. One of the items provided by the city was the inventory of Thunder Bay’s public tree assets as well as a tree canopy estimate.

Other necessary criteria of the designation covered areas such as allocation of resources and policy that outlines management of the trees.

“We congratulate the first cities to be recognized for 2019, our inaugural year,” said Hiroto Mitsugi, assistant director general, FAO in a press release. “Together, these Tree Cities form a new global network of urban forestry leaders that share the same values for city trees and forests.”

This article about the urban black oak savannah in Toronto’s High Park is a fascinating article discussing Indigenous land stewardship in urban contexts. There is applicability for other urban contexts – both in Canada and other regions around the globe.

Title: ‘It’s very precious’: Indigenous collective wants input into managing High Park’s oak savannah
Author: Rhiannon Johnson
Date: 15 February 2020
Publication: CBC Indigenous / CBC News
Link: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/high-park-indigenous-land-stewardship-1.5456265

Article Excerpt:

An Indigenous collective wants a more active role in land restoration and management in Toronto, with a focus on High Park’s rare black oak savannah.

The Indigenous Land Stewardship Circle is a collective of elders, knowledge holders and members of the urban Indigenous community who want to Indigenize and decolonize land restoration by healing the land through traditional approaches.

“What we’re talking about is restoring the right relations with the land,” said Catherine Tamarro, who is part of the land stewardship circle.

Tamarro is a Wyandot elder who belongs to the Wyandot of Anderdon Nation in Michigan. She’s a multimedia artist who lives in Toronto.

“Indigenous people have been in that space for thousands of years,” she said.

“I think that the idea is to have those rights of stewardship returned to us.”

What is a black oak savannah?
Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the majority of southern Ontario was covered in densely forested areas that were broken up by two kinds of tallgrass ecosystems, prairies and savannahs.

Black oak savannah is characterized by grasses, shrubs and widely spaced oaks, and is an ecosystem relatively rare in Canada. Savannas are dependent on fire, either natural or human-caused, to maintain the open space. The black oak is resistant to fire, and some of the largest ones in Toronto are located in High Park.

The savannah is a place for traditional medicines and berries to grow and would attract grazing animals for hunting.

“It is a remnant of Indigenous land stewardship that exists in the city,” said Tamarro. “It’s very precious.”

The black oak savannah in High Park is estimated to be approximately 4,000 years old. Since savannahs are characterized by open spaces, they were often the first areas to be cleared for settler developments and agriculture, and suppression of wildfires also reduced their expanses.

Challenges of park management
“It’s significant because it’s an approach to managing the landscape that is in pretty stark contrast to how Canadian municipal and federal authorities manage it,” said Doug Anderson who is a Métis earthworker in the land stewardship circle.

Some of the challenges around managing High Park include controlling invasive plant species and looking for a sustainable way to restore the park to its natural state while still allowing for recreational usage.

The land stewardship circle believes that the use of pesticides for dealing with invasive species is detrimental to the entire ecosystem that exists within the savannah.

For decades, the city has been also been doing controlled burns in the park to maintain the savannah. While no burns happened in 2019, the land stewardship circle hopes that in the future contracts offered by the city for restoration are offered to Indigenous stewards.

Restoring the savannahs is a first step in restoring Indigenous relationships with the land for future generations, according to Anderson.

“We need to teach our kids how to heal the land,” said Anderson.

“We have to have relationships with the land and we have to know how things grow and balance and how you can get a lot of food off it. We need to actually live with all of these things and in balance.”

City says it welcomes feedback

The City of Toronto’s Park’s, Forestry and Recreation department said in a statement “We are engaged in conversations with the Indigenous community about incorporating Indigenous knowledge and practices in High Park.

“These conversations are ongoing, and we welcome feedback and suggestions for collaboration.”

The statement said High Park is one of Toronto’s most popular and ecologically sensitive parks.

“Practices, including prescribed burn management, have been selected based on research and experience and are part of the city’s long-term management plan to protect and sustain Toronto’s rare black oak woodlands and savannahs.

“Parks, Forestry and Recreation staff are committed to building a relationship with Indigenous communities, as well as exploring new partnerships and land use practices.”

There are comparisons to recent initiatives to revitalize the black oak savannah in the Niagara and St. Catharines regions of Ontario. More information about the Niagara and St. Catharines initiatives can be found here:

Title: Work begins to restore Niagara’s oak savannah
Author: Julie Jocsak
Date: 1 March 2019
Publication: The Standard (St. Catharines)
Link: https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/9201748-work-begins-to-restore-niagara-s-oak-savannah/

I am saddened to hear that Israeli’s army recent blocked activists -who were working with Palestinians – from planting trees in the West Bank. More information about this can be found at the link below – though unfortunately the article is now behind a paywall. If anyone has a non-paywall version of an article about this incident, please let me know.

Title: Israeli Army Blocks 200 Activists From Planting Trees With Palestinians in West Bank
Author: Hagar Shezaf
Date: 14 February 2020
Publication: Haaretz
Link: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-israeli-army-blocks-200-activists-from-planting-trees-with-palestinians-in-west-bank-1.8533033