As the celebratory dust of the Paris climate change summit settles, an important gap remains. The reductions in carbon pollution that nations pledged to achieve are important steps in the right direction. Alone, they are insufficient to avoid many dangerous impacts of climate change.
Tropical forests could help plug the Paris gap. Roughly 18% of global carbon pollution today comes from either the clear-cutting or degradation of tropical forests. About 10% of global carbon pollution is soaked up from the atmosphere by recovering, regrowing tropical forests. If we slow tropical forest clearing and degradation while promoting their recovery, humanity could potentially reduce global carbon pollution by a quarter or more, buying precious time to wean our energy systems from fossil fuels.
Mato Grosso provides important lessons on how this opportunity could be seized. This giant Brazilian state—three times the size of California—is a global powerhouse of soy and beef production. And for many years, expansion of its cropland and pastures meant that a Connecticut-sized chunk of Amazon forest was lost, spewing half a billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
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