DEFORESTATION: Africa’s Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

– By Kehinde Fashua

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report glossary, Greenhouse gases are gaseous constituents of the atmosphere which might either have natural or anthropogenic sources. They absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of the infrared radiation emitted by the earth’s surface, atmosphere and the clouds. These properties lead to what is known as the greenhouse effect; a phenomenon where gases trap the sun’s heat and keep it close to the Earth. Water vapor, Carbon dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Methane and Ozone are the primary greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


Africa as a continent is not as industrialized as other parts of the world. Yet, Africa contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases due to widespread deforestation. Africa’s major forests are spread across Central Africa, West Africa, East Africa and Madagascar but due to the economic need of the rainforest communities and those of the developed world, commercial logging, woodfuel harvesting and the need to clear more land for agriculture are leading to major deforestation. As we know, forest reserves act as carbon sinks (they help to remove and store carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air which is their conventional natural process). But when these forest stocks are depleted due to deforestation, their capacity to remove these gases from the air diminishes and the already stored greenhouse gases are released back into the atmosphere resulting in an amplified greenhouse effect. This increases global temperatures and is commonly referred to as global warming.

The IPCC estimates that deforestation contributes to 17% of global greenhouse emissions, making it the second largest source next to infrastructure for energy supply. As at 1990, the estimate of carbon emissions from deforestation was 5.8 gigatonnes per year. Also, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) 2009 report shows that the greatest overall loss of forests occurs in Latin America followed closely by Africa. The loss of African rainforests is said to contribute to as much as 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Because deforestation is prominent in Africa especially in the Congo Basin, the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) reports point out that the most sustainable policy for use of forestry as a climate change tool is ‘one that maintains or increases forest carbon stocks while sustaining timber yields’ that is, cutting deforestation rate by 50% over the next century to help prevent a significant increase in global temperatures. This action prompted the UN to set up ‘Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation In Developing Countries’ (REDD). But in recent times REDD has had its own fair share of criticisms with series of reported compromises ranging from land grabbing to forceful eviction from farm and forest lands.

No doubt, deforestation in Africa contributes largely to the global greenhouse gas emissions. It is reported that human activities alone have shaved world forests by 2% as a result of increasing demand for fuel and energy. Note that the second contiguous rainforest after the Amazon is the Congo Basin of Africa. This vast green stretch covers parts of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Republic of Congo but has suffered one of the highest rates of logging and agricultural clearing due to the increasing demand for fuel wood without much logging regulation since the 1980s.

In conclusion, for many African countries, deforestation is the biggest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The DRC and Zambia are particularly vulnerable and it had been estimated that nearly half a million hectares of forest in Zambia are lost every year. Research by the Rainforest Foundation in 2007 revealed that the forests of the Congo Basin were estimated to contain between 25 and 30 billion tons of carbon, the equivalent of about 4 years of current global anthropogenic carbon emissions. In other words, over half of this carbon is stored within the forest of DRC. In view of this, it is important that Africa’s forests are protected from illegal loggers bearing in mind the huge impact of these forest to Africa and world’s climate as a whole.


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