The Heat Is Online

Warming Threatens Tropical Cloud Forests

Cloud forests, water source to millions, face risk

ENN.com, Feb. 10, 2004

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia  A warming climate threatens tropical mountain forests that strip moisture from clouds and supply water to millions of people in Africa and Latin America, experts said in a U.N. report released on Monday.

Cloud forests in equatorial and sub-equatorial regions of Latin America, Africa, and Asia account for just 2.5 percent, or 400,000 sq km (154,000 sq miles) of world tropical forest cover. But the benefits are felt way beyond their boundaries.

Clean and predictable water supplies from such forests in La Tigra National park in Honduras meet 40 percent of demand in the capital Tegucigalpa, says the report, "Cloud Forest Agenda."The capitals of Ecuador, Mexico, and Tanzania are other cities that consume cloud forest water.

But the habitats could disappear because of a range of factors including a warmer climate, predicted by scientists as the result of increased atmospheric concentrations of sunlight-trapping gases released from fossil fuel burning.

"A unique feature of these forests is that they can capture moisture through condensation from the clouds, which also makes these habitats very sensitive to climate change," said Philip Bubb, one of the co-authors of the report.

The risk was both to water supplies and the dozens of species found only in such habitats, he said. Other risks include forest clearance for farming, fires, road construction, and the introduction of species from other parts of the world.

Their combined effects could mean the loss of huge concentrations of unique mammal, bird, and frog species, said the report, released as 2,000 delegates began a two-week meeting in Kuala Lumpur intended to stem the rate of global extinction.

Officials from 188 countries and other parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will look at ways to curb the effects of climate change on species and promote greater protection for forests, river systems, oceans, and mountains.

The meeting will also see developing countries  home to the bulk of the world's species  negotiate with developed ones over how they can benefit from protecting their assets and providing access to them.

Opening the meeting, Klaus Toepfer, chief of the United Nations Environment Program, said efforts to slow global species loss and to cut poverty must go hand in hand.

"For the poorest of the poor, nature is wealth," he said. "We know that to have sustainable development, we have to concentrate on the financial capital, on the human capital but also the nature capital."