Roles of forests in climate change

As more scientific information about global warming accumulates, climate change is emerging as perhaps the greatest environmental challenge of the twenty-first century. What is more, a virtual Pandora's box of major global threats, such as hunger, poverty, population growth, armed conflict, displacement, air pollution, soil degradation, desertification and deforestation are intricately intertwined with and all contribute to climate change, necessitating a comprehensive approach to a solution. Rising to this challenge will entail unprecedented cooperation among the world's nations and strong support from international organizations concerned. FAO is particularly implicated, as its domain encompasses major sources of greenhouse gases, major potential victims of climate change, and major mitigation potentials though carbon pools and "sinks".

© Masakazu Kashio

Forests have four major roles in climate change: they currently contribute about one-sixth of global carbon emissions when cleared, overused or degraded; they react sensitively to a changing climate; when managed sustainably, they produce woodfuels as a benign alternative to fossil fuels; and finally, they have the potential to absorb about one-tenth of global carbon emissions projected for the first half of this century into their biomass, soils and products and store them - in principle in perpetuity.

In Kyoto, Japan in 1997, the international community undertook a first, concrete step to combat global warming, agreeing to reduce net emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels. Further detail, for example specifying the contribution of forests in meeting reduction targets, was spelled out in the Marrakech Accord in 2001. Because the United States decided not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, relying instead on voluntary emission intensity reductions and expected technological progress, the global reduction commitment under the Protocol was lowered to about 4 percent of 1990 emissions. Carbon sequestration through forests could contribute the lion's share of some parties' reduction commitment: utilized to the fullest, forests will lower the global reduction commitment from 4 percent to about 1 percent of 1990 emissions during the first commitment period 2008 to 2012.

In the 17th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) held in Durban, South Africa last year, it was agreed to establish a second commitment period  of the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 until either 2017 or 2020, yet to be decided. To read more about the negotiations agreed upon at COP 17 and the relavance for forests, please click here

last updated:  Friday, June 15, 2012