Why the tropics?
All of us here at ICFC care about conservation within Canada, so why are we working "everywhere else"? Well, first, the world’s natural heritage belongs to us. Tropical regions teem with biological diversity and this is where nature is most imperilled, conservation is most under-funded, and dollars go furthest.
The Amazon alone is home to: 7,000 tree species (vs. 140 species indigenous to Canada); 5,600 fish species; 1,300 bird species (Canada has 450 bird species); and an estimated 2.5 million species of insects (most not yet described). Many tropical species have small ranges, which makes them more vulnerable. Are we protecting this rich biodiversity? No, not nearly enough. Something on the order of one million species are at some degree of risk of extinction, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Tropical deforestation and the loss of other valuable tropical ecosystems is ongoing but largely avoidable. Conversion for agriculture remains the top threat to terrestrial ecosystems. But degraded lands can be restored for agriculture (or as natural areas) and agriculture and fisheries can be made sustainable and much more productive. We can minimize other impacts on natural ecosystems.
Some day the huge benefits provided freely to the world from tropical ecosystems will be properly accounted for and paid for. Until then the tropics will remain the conservation priority. ICFC is partnering with some of the world's best local conservation organizations to achieve lasting conservation gains. We can think of no better investment.
Photo credits: Karl M Zuzarte (rhinos); Andrew Freedman (Greenland glacier)
Globally, there is a huge climate mitigation potential from preventing the loss of natural ecosystems, restoring them and allowing forest regeneration. Major studies (Griscom et al. 2017 and 2020 and Roe et al., 2021) quantify the role that nature-based solutions can make in meeting the world's climate goals, with 80% of the potential being in developing and least developed countries. According the UN Environment Programme, these can yield one-fifth of the annual 30-billion-tonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions needed to limit global warming to 1.5⁰ C. UNEP points out that nature-based solutions also increase climate resilience and “improve air quality, bolster food and water security and shore up rural economies”.
The potential is evidenced by the striking climate benefits from ICFC projects. During the years 2001-2022, the Kayapo Project has prevented an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions -- more than twice Canada's annual emissions (see our brief on the Climate Benefits from the Kayapo Project). Other ICFC projects also prevent large-scale deforestation, including the Los Amigos Conservation Concession, which has prevented any net loss of forest cover, even as threats have increased from illegal goldmining and logging. This has maintained an estimated 19 million tonnes (Mt) of above-ground carbon, equivalent to 70 Mt of CO2.
Figures on forest-related emissions are usually net carbon emissions derived by subtracting carbon sequestration (carbon removed from the atmosphere by forests) from the gross emissions caused by deforestation. If we both prevent deforestation — 95% of which is occurring in the tropics — and restore forests, the combined impact is very large. Tropical forests also cool the planet through massive evapotranspiration and cloud formation.
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