From: Reuters
Published December 5, 2008 09:31 AM

Forest hotspots pinpointed for climate, animals

POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - A U.N. atlas pinpointed on Friday parts of forests from the Amazon to Madagascar where better protection could give the twin benefits of slowing global warming and preserving rare wildlife.

The atlas, issued at December 1-12 U.N. climate talks in Poznan, Poland, identified hotspots with a high diversity of animals and plants in forests that were also big stores of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, in trees and soils.

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"It shows overlaps between carbon stored and areas of biodiversity importance," Barney Dickson, of the World Conservation Monitoring Center of the U.N. Environment Program, told Reuters.

"This offers the prospect of a double dividend," he said of the atlas, meant to guide governments in deciding where to protect forests by slowing logging and clearing of forests.

If a government wanted to aid gorillas and other great apes, forests in part of the eastern Congo basin could be set aside. Rare birds and amphibians could be helped by protecting carbon-rich forests in Ecuador.

Elsewhere, it pointed to parts of the Amazon basin, the tip of South Africa, central Papua New Guinea, parts of the Philippines and most of Madagascar as among priority areas.

The 187-nation talks of 11,000 delegates in Poznan are examining schemes to slow the rate of deforestation, such as payments to preserve tropical forests.

Current deforestation rates release about 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions by mankind, led by burning fossil fuels.

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Some U.N. studies have said the world is facing the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, due to factors such as destruction of habitats, rising human populations and climate change.

Dickson said the maps, due to be expanded in more detail next year, were the first to make the overlaps.

"When countries plan they may wish to prioritize action in some areas ahead of others," he said. Other likely factors include protecting indigenous peoples' rights.

Worldwide, the loss of forests was 7.3 million hectares (18.04 million acres) a year between 2000 and 2005, an area the size of Sierra Leone or Panama -- according to U.N. data.

Separately, a report showed that protecting forests could be easier and have bigger effects than parallel drives to curb industrial emissions from factories, power plants and cars.

Reducing deforestation "is commonly seen as a significant, cheap, quick and win-win way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions," the report by the Center for International Forestry Research said.

"The cost estimates vary, from $7 billion to $28 billion per year for halving deforestation," it said, adding that even the upper estimates compared favorably with industrial curbs.

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