Climate change will damage forests, creating hardship for rural communities
November 28, 2008
Climate change will transform forests that directly sustain nearly one billion people, warns a report to be released next week at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Poznán, Poland.
The report, issued by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), calls for the implementation of adaptation measures to reduce the vulnerability of forests and forest-dependent communities to wildfires, drought, flooding, disease, and other environmental challenges.
“If they are managed properly, forests can greatly assist vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, yet if they are not managed sustainably, forests will exacerbate these impacts,” said CIFOR in a statement. “Similarly, because of their ability to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, forests have the potential to be a big part of the solution to climate change. However, if forests are destroyed, the increasing amount of carbon in the atmosphere could lead to the destruction of what remains.”
The report, titled Facing an Uncertain Future: How Forests and People can Adapt to Climate Change, argues that forests are “critical to the ability of human societies to adapt to climate change” and should be treated accordingly in international climate negotiations.
“The imperative to assist forests and forest communities to adapt to climate change has been poorly addressed in national policies and international negotiations. The adaptation challenge is being treated as secondary to mitigation, and yet the two are inextricably linked,” said Frances Seymour, Director General of CIFOR.
The report identifies two adaptation responses: (1) adapting forest management and conservation to reduce the impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems and (2) helping the people who are managing, living in or conserving forests to adapt to future changes.
“We have identified two broad categories of adaptation measures for forest ecosystems,” said Bruno Locatelli, a CIFOR scientist and lead author of the report. “The first is to buffer ecosystems against climate-related disturbances like improving fire management to reduce the risk of uncontrolled wildfires or the control of invasive species. In plantations, we can select species that are better suited to coping with the predicted changes in climate. The second would help forests to evolve towards new states better suited to the altered climate. In this way we evolve with the changing climate rather than resist it.”
In developing its recommendations, the authors of the report reviewed the scientific literature on the effects of climate change on forests. The highlights (excerpted from CIFOR):
- By the end of the 21st century, tropical regions in Africa, South Asia, and Central America are likely or very likely to be warming at a faster rate than the global annual mean warming.
- Rainfall in East Africa and during the summer monsoon of South and Southeast Asia is likely to increase.
Annual precipitation in most of Central America is likely to decrease; this region is the most prominent tropical hotspot of climate change. It is unclear how rainfall in the African Sahel and the Amazon will change.
- Peak wind intensities of tropical cyclones are likely to increase, in particular in tropical Southeast Asia and South Asia, bringing extreme rainfall.
- Droughts and floods are expected to increase globally, making water management more difficult.
“In many forests, relatively minor changes in climate can have devastating consequences, increasing their vulnerability to drought, insect attack and fire,” said CIFOR forest ecologist Markku Kanninen, a co-author of the report. “Burning or dying forests emit large quantities of greenhouse gases, so there is a chance that an initially small change in climate could lead to much bigger changes.”