The world’s forests are key to reducing the damaging effects of climate change caused by humans, but if leaders attending a key UN summit in December do not find a way to halt deforestation, it could be too late.

Head of climate change research for Earthwatch Dr. Dan Bebbe warns, “This year is the crunch time for forests and climate change. We are hoping for big things from the Copenhagen climate summit at the end of 2009.”

“Unless we tackle the question of forests as a mitigation method for climate change,” he adds, “then we will really have lost the battle to keep greenhouse gas concentrations below levels that many people would consider to be dangerous.”

As ACT’s climate change adaptation and biodiversity report suggests, it’s time we began valuing forests in terms of ecosystem goods and services rather than traditional market returns. A recent report by Swedish businessman Johan Eliasch proposes paying developing nations not to deforest land, thus providing aid while preserving vital carbon sinks and biodiversity.

Such a scheme could reduce deforestation rates by up to 75% by 2030, Mr Eliasch concludes; an important development, given that old growth tropical forest removal – trees being felled or burned to convert fertile land into arable farmland – currently accounts for almost 20% of human-caused CO2 emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol, a controversial international initiative that sets binding targets for reducing GHG emissions, is due to expire in 2012, and member countries must design an effective follow-up. Global forestry practices were not included in Kyoto, and must now find their place within the broader solution, according to Gro Harlem Brundtland, the UN secretary general’s climate change envoy.

ACT’s first set of policy recommendations on climate change adaptation and biodiversity are available on our website.