Sabah forests can halt climate change

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 07 Dec 2017

A step forward: Remote sensing and satellite mapping data have enabled the mapping of forest carbon which is an important step in identifying areas for conservation.

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah could double its carbon stock and play an important role in controlling climate change if previously logged forests are allowed to regenerate.

A study carried out by several agencies, including the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) in collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department and other institutions, showed that about 40% of Sabah’s carbon stock exists in forests that are not designated for maximum protection.

Carbon stock refers to the amount of carbon stored in a forest, including biomass and soil. Carbon is a key component of all life, animal and plant alike.

Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan, who is also the chief conservator of forests, said this finding followed new remote sensing and satellite mapping data by CAO’s Greg Asner and his colleagues that was recently published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Asner said in a statement that his team found about 40% of Sabah’s carbon stock is contained in forests “that are not protected at the highest designation”.

“We also discovered that Sabah could double its carbon stock by allowing previously logged forests to regenerate, a process that could take about a century,” he added.

In addition to finding 50 of the tallest tropical trees ever measured, the CAO team also pinpointed important targets for conservation efforts.

Asner said a high carbon stock is important because tropical forests like those in Sabah convert large quantities of atmospheric carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) into organic material.

Tropical rainforests accomplish more of this than any other terrestrial ecosystem on Earth, he added.

“But when this forest land is repurposed for agriculture, logging, or mining, carbon is released into the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.”

Asner said tropical deforestation and forest degradation account for about 10% of the world’s carbon emissions each year.

The next step is to determine which segments of Sabah’s forests contain the most carbon in the form of biomass.

This will also help the state government meet its goal of increasing protected forests from 1.8 million to 2.2 million hectares, he added.

Sabah’s close to 4 million hectares of forest include many different habitats and management strategies, and comprehensive “wall-to-wall mapping” will be needed to accurately quantify their total carbon stock.

Conservation body South-East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership believes such a study would also help identify hundreds of thousands of new conservation areas in Sabah that not only protect habitats, but also the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.

Its representative Glen Reynolds said forest carbon is an important factor to determine where conservation efforts will have the greatest impact.

He added that data on canopy biodiversity and animal habitats will also help inform decision-makers.

Mannan said such an exhaustive mapping effort will be a groundbreaking endeavour that would set the state apart in accelerating its conservation and restoration efforts.

“We will apply the information gathered particularly to mitigate the worst effects of climate change,” he said.

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