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Forest, part of solution to Global Warming (1)

By Floro Mercene

Costa Rica, officially the Republic of Costa Rica, is a small country in Central America with a population of around 4.9 million. It is the only country to meet all five UNDP (United Nations Development Program) criteria established to measure environmental sustainability. It was twice ranked the best performing country in the New Economics Foundation’s (NEF) Happy Planet Index, which measures environmental sustainability.

Around 25% of the country’s land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world (developing world average is 13%, developed world average is 8%). Costa Rica has successfully managed to diminish deforestation from some of the worst rates in the world in the mid-20th century when a majority of its ancient forests were chopped down. After the government’s strong progressive environmental policies, and a wave of forest re-growth, trees now blanket more than half of Costa Rica.

Forests play a large role in what is called the “carbon cycle” of the planet. Over time, humans have cut down or damaged at least three-quarters of the world’s forests, and that destruction has accounted for much of the excess carbon that is warming the planet.

Carbon in the atmosphere exists as CO2 (carbon dioxide), a greenhouse gas (GHG). Trees absorb carbon during photosynthesis, removing large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and storing it. A large proportion of this stored carbon also ends up in forest soil through natural processes such as annual leaf fall and tree death. Trees release carbon back to the atmosphere during respiration when they die and decay, and if they are burned in a forest fire. This dynamic process of absorbing and releasing carbon constantly affects Earth’s carbon balance.

(To be continued)