World's Forests may be Devastated by Climate Change

by VR Sreeraman on Nov 30 2008 12:34 PM

A group of forest scientists has warned that unless immediate action is taken, climate change could have a devastating effect on the world's forests and the nearly 1 billion people who depend on them for their livelihoods.

The researchers, from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), called for the implementation of adaptation measures to reduce the vulnerability of forests and forest-dependent communities that will experience an unprecedented combination of climate change-associated disturbances like flooding, drought, wildfire, and other environmental challenges in the next 100 years.

According to "Facing an Uncertain Future: How Forests and People can Adapt to Climate Change", a new book by CIFOR, immediate measures must be taken now to adapt forests to climate change.

Measures include buffering ecosystems against climate-related disturbances and selecting species in plantations better suited to predicted changes in climates.

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.

Similarly, because of their ability to take carbon dioxide (CO2) 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. So it is a self-perpetuating cycle, according to the report.

Forests provide millions of people with income, food, medicines and building materials and deliver many vital ecosystem services like flood or drought regulation and water purification, according to CIFOR's report.

They are, therefore, critical to the ability of human societies to adapt to climate change.

The report identifies two related but distinctive adaptation responses. One of these would aim to adapt forest management and conservation to reduce the impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems.

"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," he said.

"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," he added.

A second adaptive response is to help the people who are managing, living in or conserving forests to adapt to future changes.