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AMAZONIAN RAINFOREST
WORTH BILLIONS OF DOLLARS

The Amazonian rainforest is worth hundreds of billions ofdollars, not as timber but as a machine to fight global warming, scientistshave reported in the latest issue of Naturemagazine.

US and Brazilian researchers said Amazonia could act as a gigantic carbon"sink" over the next hundred years, helping to suck up carbon dioxide (CO2)emissions blamed for a potentially catastrophic warming of the Earth'satmosphere.

"These trees will accumulate carbon in their wood for more than a centuryafter a productivity increase, underscoring the value of intact tropicalforests," they write in Thursday's issue of Nature.

The team, led by the University of California's Jeffrey Chambers, predictsthat if CO2 levels double over the next century, which other studies say isquite possible, that could encourage a 25-percentspurt in the growth of woody fibre among Amazonia's large-trunked trees.

This growth amounts to a huge "productivity increase" in stored carbon, theysaid.

In economic terms, it also means that Amazonia is fantastically valuable,they added.

They estimated the forest had the ability to store between 200 million and300 million tonnes of CO2 per year, amounting to up to five percent ofglobal output of the gas.

That means Amazonia, simply by locking up the gas, is worth between twobillion and three billion dollars a year over the next century, they said.

The calculation is based on 10 dollars per tonne of CO2, which is sometimescited as a likely price in the future market of trading in carbon pollutionunder the Kyoto Protocol.

The study goes to the heart of one of the most controversial areas undernegotiation in Kyoto, a still-incomplete UN treaty that seeks to fend offglobal warming by cutting CO2 emissions by industrialised countries.

The US, the world's biggest offender in the global warming problem, saysforests should be generously offset against national quota targets of CO2.

But it is being strongly opposed by the European Union (EU).

The EU suspects the US of seeking to write off CO2 emissions using itsinventory of forests rather than implement tough and unpopular environmentpolicies.

It also notes some scientific evidence which says forests, after absorbingCO2 for a number of decades as a byproduct of photosynthesis, then startreleasing the stored gas as the treesmature and rot, thus contributing to global warming.

But Chambers' team said that the case in Amazonia is somewhat different.

Amazonian trees have a very long lifespan, of an average 175 years, whichmeans that it would take until the 22nd century for this newly-stored carbonto be released into the air provided the forest is left undisturbed, theysaid.

The UN's top panel on global warming fears atmospheric temperatures couldrise by up to 5.8 C (10.4 F) by 2100 if nothing is done to brake the growthof CO2 levels.

A rise of that magnitude could have catastrophic repercussions on weatherpatterns, affecting agriculture and human habitation.

Oil, gas and coal are the villains in this scenario, as they are rich inCO2. Burning these fuels causes the gas to linger in the lower atmosphere,storing the Sun's heat in a so-called greenhouse effect.

Written by: Agence France Presse


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