Royal Society Publishing

Changes in the use and management of forests for abating carbon emissions: issues and challenges under the Kyoto Protocol

Sandra Brown , Ian R. Swingland , Robin Hanbury-Tenison , Ghillean T. Prance , Norman Myers


The global carbon cycle is significantly influenced by changes in the use and management of forests and agriculture. Humans have the potential through changes in land use and management to alter the magnitude of forest–carbon stocks and the direction of forest–carbon fluxes. However, controversy over the use of biological means to absorb or reduce emissions of CO2 (often referred to as carbon ‘sinks’) has arisen in the context of the Kyoto Protocol. The controversy is based primarily on two arguments: sinks may allow developed nations to delay or avoid actions to reduce fossil fuel emissions, and the technical and operational difficulties are too threatening to the successful implementation of land use and forestry projects for providing carbon offsets. Here we discuss the importance of including carbon sinks in efforts to address global warming and the consequent additional social, environmental and economic benefits to host countries. Activities in tropical forest lands provide the lowest cost methods both of reducing emissions and reducing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. We conclude that the various objections raised as to the inclusion of carbon sinks to ameliorate climate change can be addressed by existing techniques and technology. Carbon sinks provide a practical available method of achieving meaningful reductions in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide while at the same time contribute to national sustainable development goals.