Batang Toru forest: Carbon Stocks -
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Of the many valuable services to mankind that rainforests provide, such as ensuring a steady water source for farming, their role in helping to regulate the world’s climate is perhaps the most valuable.


A comparison of carbon storage by global boreal, tropical and temperate forests. One Pg (petagram) is equivalent to one billion tonnes.


When forests are cut down, they release heat-trapping carbon dioxide that they would otherwise store. About half the weight of a tree is made up of stored carbon. It is the build-up of CO2 and other heat-trapping gases – largely through the burning of fossil fuels and agriculture – that is causing global warming. Indeed, forests are naturally carbon “sinks.”

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) conducted a study of the carbon stocks in the Batang Toru forest (Tata and van Noordwijk 2010), based on analysis of 2009 satellite imagery and field visits. The carbon stock values of different areas of the forests are shown in the map below (NB: “Survey Sites” reflect Socio-Economic Surveys, not carbon stock surveys).


They found that undisturbed primary forest had standing carbon stocks (243 t/ha) that are more than twice the levels found in any other habitat types in the area. Soil carbon stocks in primary forest (58 t/ha), were also higher than in all other habitats. Based on these figures, the forests have a total standing carbon stock in excess of 30 million tonnes.

Keeping forests intact would allow the Batak and other communities to potentially get income by tapping global carbon markets. Businesses and rich nations are committing to reducing their carbon footprints. Through certified projects – under REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanisms- they can “offset” their emissions by paying tropical countries to keep their forests standing.

If the forest disappears, so does this potential value. Local villagers already cite climate control as a reason to preserve the forests. Habitat for orangutans in the Batang Toru forests are not threatened as much by palm oil expansion due to the high altitude of the area and rugged terrain, and therefore have an especially competitive value under a REDD carbon trading scheme. But as it is now, much of the forest is open for logging and other commercial interests and can be exploited at will. This is one more reason why the Batang Toru forests needs to be designated as a protected area.