According to a recent study of greenhouse gas quantities released from and absorbed by forests in Unesco World Heritage sites, India’s Sundarbans National Park is one of five places with the biggest blue carbon stores worldwide.
According to the report, such “World Heritage forests” are currently releasing more carbon than they are absorbing, owing mostly to human activities and climate change.
Between 2001 and 2020, researchers from Unesco, the World Resources Institute, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature calculated how much carbon was absorbed and released by Unesco World Heritage forests.
According to a statement from the organisation, they achieved so by merging satellite-derived data with monitoring information at the site level. They discovered that trees in 257 Unesco World Heritage sites absorbed over 190 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.
According to the analysis, this sum was equivalent to almost half of the UK’s yearly CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.
In addition to collecting CO2 from the atmosphere, World Heritage forests retain significant quantities of carbon, according to the research.
The total carbon stored by these trees is estimated to be over 13 billion tonnes. It would be equivalent to producing 1.3 times the world’s total yearly CO2 emissions from fossil fuels if all of this stored carbon were released into the atmosphere as CO2.
Blue carbon, according to the research, is organic carbon derived mostly from decomposing plant leaves, wood, roots, and animals. Coastal and marine ecosystems collect and store it.
Unesco has identified 50 locations throughout the world that have unique marine qualities. These areas make up less than 1% of the world’s oceans. However, they account for at least 15% of worldwide blue carbon assets.
The carbon storage capacity of these 50 locations is estimated to be 1.4 gigatonnes (Gt C). The Sundarbans National Park contains 60 million tonnes of carbon in its reserves (Mt C).
Apart from the Sundarbans National Park in India, the Bangladeshi section of the Sundarbans (110 Mt C), Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (502 Mt C), the United States’ Everglades National Park (400 Mt C), and Mauritania’s Banc d’Arguin National Park are the other four places (110 Mt C).
Between 2001 and 2020, human disturbances and pressures caused 10 of 257 forests to release more carbon than they collected, according to the study.
Clearing land for agriculture, the rising extent and intensity of wildfires due to drought, and severe weather events such as hurricanes were among the causes for higher emissions than sequestration.
The research advocated for robust and long-term conservation of Unesco World Heritage sites and their surrounding landscapes to guarantee that their forests can continue to serve as effective carbon sinks and storage for future generations.
It advocated for quick responses to climate-related catastrophes, as well as enhanced landscape management to protect and increase ecological connection.
It also advocated for climate, biodiversity, and sustainable development strategies to be integrated into international, national, and local climate, biodiversity, and sustainable development plans.
It said that this should be done in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement, the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and the Sustainable Development Goals.