New study warns damage to forests from climate change could cost the planet its major keeper of greenhouse gases
The critical role of forests as massive "sinks" for absorbing greenhouse gases is "at risk of being lost entirely" to climate change-induced environmental stresses that threaten to damage and even decimate forests worldwide, according to a new report released today. The report will be formally presented at the next session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) taking place 20 April-1 May 2009 at the UN Headquarters in New York City.
"Adaptation of Forests and People to Climate Change — A Global Assessment" was coordinated by the Vienna-based International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) through the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), an alliance of 14 international organizations that each has substantial forestry programs.
Authored by 35 of the world's top forestry scientists, it provides the first global assessment to date of the ability of forests to adapt to climate change and is expected to play a key role in next week's UNFF discussions. The report presents the state of scientific knowledge regarding the current and projected future impacts of climate change on forests and people along with options for adaptation.
"We normally think of forests as putting the brakes on global warming, but in fact over the next few decades, damage induced by climate change could cause forests to release huge quantities of carbon and create a situation in which they do more to accelerate warming than to slow it down," said Risto Seppälä, a professor at the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) and Immediate Past President of IUFRO, who chaired the expert panel that produced the report.
Scientists hope the new assessment will inform international climate change negotiations, set to resume in December in Copenhagen, where forest-related deliberations thus far have focused mainly on carbon emissions from deforestation. The analysis shows that officials also must consider how the world's forests are likely to suffer—and perhaps severely—as the earth gets warmer.