Washington, Dec 2 : A new study has determined that keeping tropical rain forests intact is a better way to combat climate change than replacing them with biofuel plantations.
It was undertaken by an international research team of botanists, ecologists and engineers from seven nations.
The study revealed that it would take at least 75 years for the carbon emissions saved through the use of biofuels to compensate for the carbon lost through forest conversion.
If the original habitat was carbon-rich peatland, the carbon balance would take more than 600 years.
On the other hand, planting biofuels on degraded Imperata grasslands instead of tropical rain forests would lead to a net removal of carbon in 10 years, the researchers found.
"Our analysis found that it would take 75 to 93 years to see any benefits to the climate from biofuel plantations on converted tropical forestlands," said lead author Finn Danielsen of Denmark's Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology (NORDECO).
"Until then, we will be releasing carbon into the atmosphere by cutting tropical rain forests, in addition to losing valuable plant and animal species. It's even worse on peatlands, which contain so much carbon that it would be 600 years before we see any benefits whatsoever," he added.
Biofuels have been touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels, one of the major contributors to global warming.
But, one such biofuel, palm oil, covers millions of acres in Southeast Asia, where it has directly or indirectly replaced tropical rain forests, resulting in loss of habitats for species such as rhinos and orangutans and the loss of carbon stored in trees and peatlands.
"Biofuels are a bad deal for forests, wildlife and the climate if they replace tropical rain forests," said co-author Dr. Neil Burgess of World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
"In fact, they hasten climate change by removing one of the world's most efficient carbon storage tools - intact tropical rain forests," he added.
Tropical forests contain more than half of the Earth's terrestrial species and Southeast Asia's forests are among the richest in species.
They also store around 46 percent of the world's living terrestrial carbon and 25 percent of total net global carbon emissions may stem from deforestation.
"Conserving the existing forests is not only good for the climate as the emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced, but also generates additional benefits, such as biodiversity protection," said Dr. Daniel Murdiyarso of the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry (CIFOR).