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UNESCO World Heritage Forests

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    8th Nov, 2021

Context

As per UNESCO’s assessment on World Heritage forests, India’s Sundarbans National Park is among five sites that have the highest blue carbon stocks globally.

About Sundarban National Park

  • It is located in the southeast of Kolkata in the District of West Bengaland forms part of the Gangetic Delta.
  • The Sundarbans are a mangrove forest, on the delta of the GangesBrahmaputraand Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal.
  • The area is known for its wide range of fauna.
  • It ishome to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species such as the estuarine crocodile, Royal Bengal Tiger, Water monitor lizard, Gangetic dolphin, and olive ridley turtles.

UNESCO World Heritage Forests

  • Forests are some of the most biodiversity-rich habitats on Earth.
  • These forests play a crucial role in climate regulation by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) and are considered as one of the most cost-effective forms of climate action.
  • As of today, more than 200 World Heritage sites harbor unique forest ecosystems.
  • Ranging in size from 18 hectares (Vallée de Mai, Seychelles), to more than 5 million hectares (Central Amazon Conservation Complex, Brazil), World Heritage forest sites now have a total surface area of over 69 million hectares (roughly twice the size of Germany).

Key finding of new study

  • It is the first-ever scientific assessment of the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted from and absorbed by forests in UNESCO World Heritage sites during 2001 and 2020.
  • The assessment involved the researchers from UNESCO, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • UNESCO World Heritage forests in 257 separate sites, absorbed the equivalent of approximately 190 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.
    • However, 10 forests released more carbon than they sequestered due to pressure from human activity and climate change, which is alarming.
  • These forests also store substantial amounts of carbon. 
  • The study described blue carbon as organic carbon that is mainly obtained from decaying plant leaves, wood, roots and animals and is captured and stored by coastal and marine ecosystem.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

  • It was founded in 1945 to develop the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” as a means of building lasting peace.
  • It is located in Paris, France.

What has been found about Indian Sundarbans?

  • According to the research, India’s Sundarbans National Park has a large amount of blue carbon stocks globally.
  • The other four sites are the
    • Bangladeshi portion of the Sundarbans
    • the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
    • Everglades National Park in the United States
    • the Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania

What is Blue Carbon?

  • Blue carbon is an organic carbon that is mainly obtained from decaying plant leaves, wood, roots and animals.
  • It is captured and stored by coastal and marine ecosystems. 

Forests emitting carbon

  • As per the research, 10 of 257 forests emitted more carbon than they captured between 2001 and 2020 due to different anthropogenic disturbances and pressures.
  • The reasons for emissions to be greater than sequestration included
    • clearance of land for agriculture
    • the increasing scale and severity of wildfires due to drought
    • extreme weather phenomena such as hurricanes
  • The 10 sites are:
    • Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Indonesia)
    • Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras)
    • Yosemite National Park (US)
    • Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (Canada, US)
    • Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (South Africa)
    • Kinabalu Park (Malaysia)
    • Uvs Nuur Basin (Russian Federation, Mongolia)
    • Grand Canyon National Park (US)
    • Greater Blue Mountains Area (Australia)
    • Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Dominica)

What are the suggestions given by the report?

  • Strong and consistent protection of UNESCO World Heritage sites and their surrounding landscapes to make sure their forests could continue to act as powerful carbon sinks and stores for future generations.
  • Maintaining and strengthening ecological connectivity through improved landscape governance. 
  • Integrating the continued protection of Unesco World Heritage sites into international, national and local climate, biodiversity and sustainable development strategies.
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