Edited by Joshua D. Sarnoff
Chapter 26: Natural resources
How we choose to manage our natural resources can have a tremendous effect on the mitigation of climate change and on the ability of all species to adapt to the effects of climate change. Conventional knowledge is that the use of fossil fuels (a natural resource) for energy is the primary driver of climate change. Less well understood, however, is how the past, present and future use of other natural resources (forests in particular) will contribute to climatic changes and the services provided by ecosystems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that deforestation in the 1990s accounted for 5.8 million tons of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) emitted per year, corresponding to an estimated 13 million hectares (Mha) per year. This level of deforestation not only results in the lost opportunity to remove atmospheric carbon but can result in an immediate release of stored carbon dioxide (CO2) when forests are burned for the purpose of converting it to other uses, such as the planting of agricultural crops for biofuel or food production. In addition to burning, forest decay also contributes a notable portion of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The mismanagement of natural resources can trigger feedbacks in the natural carbon cycle, leading to the further acceleration of GHG emissions and loss of terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity (as discussed in Chapter 2 by David Hunter). Scientists have begun to quantify the effects of these types of feedbacks within the natural carbon cycle, exploring how they are predicted to further amplify warming.
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