NEW YORK (Reuters) - Primate scientist Jane Goodall said on Wednesday the race to grow crops for vehicle fuels is damaging rain forests in Asia, Africa and South America and adding to the emissions blamed for global warming.
“We’re cutting down forests now to grow sugarcane and palm oil for biofuels and our forests are being hacked into by so many interests that it makes them more and more important to save now,” Goodall said on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative, former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s annual philanthropic meeting.
As new oil supplies become harder to find, many countries such as Brazil and Indonesia are racing to grow domestic sources of vehicle fuels, such as ethanol from sugarcane and biodiesel from palm nuts.
The United Nations’ climate program considers the fuels to be low in carbon because growing the crops takes in heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide.
But critics say demand for the fuels has led companies to cut down and burn forests in order to grow the crops, adding to heat-trapping emissions and leading to erosion and stress on ecosystems.
“Biofuel isn’t the answer to everything; it depends where it comes from,” she said. “All of this means better education on where fuels are coming from are needed.”
Goodall said the problem is especially bad in the Indonesian rain forest where large amounts of palm nut oil is being made. Growers in Uganda -- where her nonprofit group works to conserve Great Apes -- are also looking to buy large parcels of rain forest and cut them down to grow sugar cane, while in Brazil, forest is cleared to grow sugar cane.
The Goodall Institute is working with a recently formed group of eight rain forest nations called the Forest Eight, or F8, led by Indonesia. The group wants to create a system where rich countries would pay them not to chop down rain forests and hopes to unveil the plan at climate talks in Bali in December.
Scientists from the forested countries are trying to nail down exactly how much carbon dioxide the ecosystems store, but the amount has been estimated to be about double that which is already in the atmosphere, Goodall said.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner