Effects of climate change on forests in Africa: Why Ghana must protect her forest cover
By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath
There is this funny African proverb that says: “You don’t value your own buttocks until you develop a boil over there.”
It seems to me that sometimes man takes nature for granted. But nature is very, very kind to man. On Wednesday, 16 March 2016, a two-day international forest conference took off here in Accra the capital city of Ghana. Held under the theme “Forest for the future of New Forest for Africa”, the event was opened by H.E. Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Coincidentally, H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, Former President of Ghana is the current UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. Further, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, current President of Ghana is Co-Chair for UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2030). These are positive facts about Ghana which must be celebrated.
Talking about forests in Africa, Dr. Kofi Annan lamented that the growing demand for wood and other forest products and the activities of illegal miners popularly known as ‘galamsey’ and illegal timber operators were destroying Africa’s forest cover. In fact, he disclosed that about 130 million hectares of Africa’s “forest cover has been lost since 1990.”
The Former UN Secretary-General called on conference participants from 13 countries made up of experts and stakeholders from Europe, America and the mother continent to discuss possible ways of protecting the continent’s forest cover. This could be done by addressing destructive practices, including illegal logging, illegal mining, wildfires, and unsustainable agriculture.
In Dr. Annan’s view, Africa could generate about $170 billion annually if about 350 million hectares of degenerated forests could be restored. He recalled that at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, held in Paris, France from 30 November to 12 December last year, African leaders pledged to restore a total of 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes within Africa by 2030.
For the purpose of this article this writer wishes to share some fascinating facts about the value of forests. These are findings of a study recently conducted by the United States of America Environmental Protection Agency EPA about Forests and Climate.
First of all, the researchers who undertook the study observed that (…) “Perhaps the most alarming fact is that looking at our earth’s history a slight change in the Atlantic Ocean current was what actually caused the downfall of the Roman Empire.”
They stated that the lack of rainfall also caused the Sahara Desert to enlarge from a small area so that now it is sixteen times larger than a country like France. “This happened because there were no longer spring rains at the head of the Nile River and thus no yearly floods at the delta which brought new soil and moisture to grow enough food for Rome,” the researchers noted.
About the value of forests specifically, the researchers stated: “Forests are most valuable RENEWABLE energy. Forests clean, purify, humidify and cool the air you breathe.” The study indicates that forests affect our climate and therefore our weather in three ways thus: “they lower temperatures, reduce energy usage and reduce or remove air pollutants.”
Further, the study underscores the fact that “each part of trees contributes to the Climate Control from roots to leaves.” It was explained that leaves help turn down the thermostat to cool the air through a process called ‘evapotranspiration’. Evapotranspiration is said to be the combination of two simultaneous processes: evaporation and transpiration, both of which release moisture into the air.
“Researchers have found that planting one tree to the west and one to the south of a home can significantly reduce energy consumption.” May be most Ghanaian scientists know about this fact. But as a layman, I find this outcome of the study very instructive indeed. Perhaps some Ghanaians who may have already built their own houses or may want do so in the future can determine where to plant trees in their homes.
The US EPA’s study has established other vital facts about forests. For instance, about what forests ecosystems do for man, it is revealed that, “Forests along with grasses, crops and plants produce 50% of the World’s Oxygen. The remaining 50% is supplied by Marine Phytoplankton and sunlight,” adding that the percentages vary in accordance with the weather. It is explained that from the atmosphere, forest streams provide 50% of America’s “pure drinking water,” the study reveals.
How about Ghana? Do we know what percentage our forests provide to the so-called “pure water” hawked on the streets of our cities? This knowledge may go a long way to empower our law enforcement agents to reason out with illegal chain saw operators to stop destroying Ghana’s forest reserves ‘by heart’.
Further more, EPA’s study reveals that during evaporation, water is converted from liquid to vapour and evaporates from soil, lakes, rivers and even pavement. Then during transpiration, water that was drawn up through the soil by the roots evaporates from the leaves.
There is no doubt that some of these facts are common knowledge to many scientists and environmental experts in Ghana and Africa. But the US EPA researchers disclosed that, “a large oak tree is capable of transpiring 40,000 gallons of water into the atmosphere during one year.” The study further indicates that annual cooling costs in America were reduced by eight to 18 percent while annual heating costs were reduced to two to eight percent. “Forests work 24 hours every day,” the researchers pointed out.
If forests are working 24 hours every day, do human beings acknowledge the role of forests for their well being so as to express gratitude to them? The US EPA’s study attests that leaves also filter particles from the air, including dusts, ozone, carbon monoxide and other air pollutants.
The American researchers added one fact that should be known to even Ghanaian Junior High School students. “Through the process of photosynthesis, trees remove carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and release oxygen into our air.” But the study specifies that, “Trees store the carbon dioxide, called carbon sequestration, and – depending on the size of the tree – can remove between 35 to 800 pounds of carbon dioxide each year,” the researchers concluded.
Basically, the object of this article is to appeal to fellow Ghanaians especially galamsey engineers, rat hunters who set bush fires, charcoal producers, illegal chainsaw operators and all those who take delight in forest destruction to have some mercy on Ghana’s forest cover.
As Dr. Kofi Annan pointed out in his address at the international forest conference cited above, “We should show more commitment in the fight against activities that destroy the forest else its implications could overwhelm the entire continent.”