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Tropical forest trees, like all green plants, take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen during photosynthesis. Plants also carry out the opposite process, known as respiration, in which they emit carbon dioxide, generally in smaller amounts than taken in during photosynthesis. The remaining carbon is stored in the plant, allowing it to grow bigger. That stored carbon would be released into the air as carbon dioxide if deforestation or forest degradation occurs and trees are cut down and allowed to rot or are burned.
Since carbon dioxide is the major source of global warming pollution, tropical deforestation is an important contributor to global warming. Tropical forests must be protected from deforestation and degradation if we want to reduce emissions to the levels needed to protect the planet against the worst and most expensive global warming impacts. Ending deforestation will not solve the global warming by itself—clearly, urgent action is needed to cut the other 90 percent of emissions—but the problem cannot be solved if the 10 percent of world emissions from tropical deforestation is ignored.
Reducing deforestation is more than just a method to reduce global warming pollution. Tropical forests are home to many unique species of animals and plants. Animals like the jaguar will risk becoming extinct if we do not act to protect their home in the tropical forests. In addition, tropical forests are crucial sources of food, medicine, and clean drinking water for people in developing countries. Tropical forests help regulate regional rainfall and prevent both floods and droughts. Thus, reducing deforestation is not only a beneficial action against global warming—it also can make important contributions to saving biodiversity and supporting sustainable development.
Download this fact sheet to learn more about tropical deforestation contributes to global warming, and how actions to protect tropical forests (including a set of policies known as REDD+) will reduce global warming while providing many additional benefits.