For their role in mitigating and adapting to climate change, forests gained prominence during the COP26.
The Global Landscapes Forum, with a theme, “Leveraging the Power of Forests and Trees for Climate Resilience,” held on 5 November 2021, talks about the role of forests and trees in providing multiple goods and services that contribute to the resilience and adaptive capacity of people and ecosystems. It has not yet gotten the attention it deserves in climate policy and action.
The session gathers diverse insights and perspectives to highlight recent concrete examples of how forests can become society’s climate mitigation and resilience solution and its connection to human and ecosystems health.
Landscape News features how forests and nature-based solutions have risen in climate agendas. During the COP26, the role of forests in reducing emissions by 11% has led 140 world leaders to sign an agreement to end deforestation by 2030 COP26.
Nature-based solutions using forests to climate change has also been at the centre of the two-week summit. The forests’ rise in prominence in the climate change agenda can also be attributed to the UN program, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) implemented in more than 60 countries to help them reduce emissions through forest management.
Although forests are widely accepted as powerful agents to reduce emissions or climate mitigators, their role in climate adaptation is still primarily overlooked in general climate adaptation programs and policies.
The gap in climate adaptation is linked to the lack of financial assistance to developing countries. A recent UNEP report estimates between US$250 to 500 billion a year until 2050 is needed for developing countries to adapt to climate change appropriately. But the $100 billion climate finance that developed nations promised to developing countries, crucial for their climate adaptation, has not been fully met yet for 12 years.
Fulfilling this climate finance promise is significant in addressing the climate adaptation gap because it can affect the rate of deforestation in developing countries. Mahamat Assouyouti, senior climate change specialist at the Adaptation Fund, says that a significant driver of deforestation, especially in carbon-rich tropical forests, is poverty, as people find ways to make their living and address food security.
As an example, Africa uses 90% of the wood as fuel. But through adaptive measures, fulfilling human needs can work together with restoring deforested areas. For instance, we can plant fast-growing trees for fuel, and sustainable agriculture practices can save or restore forests.
What happens when people don’t manage their forests well?
In 2017, heavy rainfalls on deforested hills in Freetown, Sierra Leone, caused a massive landslide that left 1,100 people dead or missing. This tragedy has forced local communities to make changes through preserving and restoring their forests to boost their resilience.
Five years later, Freeetonians have benefitted from protecting and restoring their forest and applying agroforestry to reduce soil erosion and improve soil quality.
Kalimantan, Indonesia, has experienced natural disasters from forest fires in 2015 and 2019 and the worst flooding between 2020 and 2021. They link these disasters to deforestation and climate change.
In the past, traditional knowledge has worked to keep their ecosystem in balance. Still, with climate change, residents would need more data and knowledge hubs to inform their climate adaptation strategies.
Are trees our climate saviours?
A news feature from Nature takes a deeper look at the role of forests in fighting climate change. Research shows that trees emit a “complex potpourri of chemicals, some of which warm the planet” and “The dark leaves of trees can also raise temperatures by absorbing sunlight. Several analyses in the past few years suggest that these warming effects from forests could partially or fully offset their cooling ability.”
This finding has resulted in vigorous debates among scientists about how forests in different regions have either warming or cooling effects.
The article mentions:
“Nobody denies that trees are good for the environment; after all, forests provide a host of benefits and harbour much of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. And no researchers are suggesting cutting down existing forests or curtailing efforts to combat deforestation. But as governments, corporations and non-profit organisations advance ever-more ambitious programmes to slow climate change, some scientists warn against relying on forests as a solution to global warming until a better understanding emerges.”
To have more definite answers on whether trees cool or warm the planet, scientists are turning to sophisticated computer models global satellite data that go back decades to track down carbon sequestration figures of forests.
More research needs to be done on examining the albedo changes caused by dark leaves of conifers trees and long-term studies that will keep records of the gases and chemicals emitted and absorbed.
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Lipton, G. (2021 December 14). Forests: an unrecognised force for adaptation to climate change. Landscape News. Retrieved from https://news.globallandscapesforum.org/56012/forests-an-unrecognized-force-for-adaptation-to-climate-change/
Popkin, G. (2019, January 15). How much can forests fight climate change? Nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00122-z