Environmental considerations

Environmental considerations of SFM include climate-change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and soil and water conservation. Reducing waste and minimizing and regulating the use of chemicals in forest operations are other important considerations.


SFM and climate change

Native forest of Araucaria sp in the Andes mountains. FAO/Claudia Alejandra Dinamarca Garrido / FAOMitigation of climate change. Forests currently store about half the global terrestrial carbon pool. On the other hand, deforestation and forest degradation are estimated to cause about 17.4 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Forests can be net sinks or net sources of carbon, depending on their age, health and susceptibility to wildfires and other disturbances and on how they are managed. When sustainably managed, forests can assist both the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change by maintaining and increasing forest and tree cover and therefore the terrestrial carbon pool. Thus, while deforestation and forest degradation are part of the cause of climate change, SFM can be part of the solution.

Actions for climate-change mitigation and adaptation within the scope of SFM are synergistic and can be balanced with other management objectives, depending on the specific national, subnational or local context. Forest management practices that increase carbon sequestration from the atmosphere include:

  • afforestation, reforestation and the restoration of degraded forests;
  • increasing tree cover through agroforestry, urban forestry and tree-planting in rural landscapes; and
  • enhancing existing forest carbon stocks in forest biomass (both above-ground, for example in tree stems, branches and leaves, and below-ground, in roots) as well as in leaf litter and soils, through certain silvicultural practices, the selection of fast-growing species, lengthening harvesting cycles, fertilization, and other measures.

Preventing forest degradation is another important way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from forests. Measures that minimize forest degradation include: employing reduced impact harvesting methods; the proper planning and construction of forest roads and their effective maintenance; integrated fire management (which may include prevention and suppression as well as controlled-burning regimes); the prevention of excessive grazing by livestock and the overharvesting of fuelwood and timber; and integrated pest management. Special measures may need to be applied in especially fragile ecosystems, such as mountain forests, important watersheds, dryland forests, coastal forests and forests with high conservation value.

Koulomboutej Village, Niger - Small dams and barriers are dug into the earth to prevent soil degradation and to keep rain water on site. ©FAO/Giulio NapolitanoForest products in climate change mitigation.

In addition to their direct role in climate-change mitigation, sustainably managed forests contribute to mitigation indirectly when their products are used as substitutes for fossil fuels and other, more carbon-intensive products such as steel, aluminium and plastics. The promotion of low-carbon fuels and products is a cornerstone of green economic development. Fuelwood, charcoal and various other forms of renewable wood-based energy constitute the world’s most important source of bioenergy, providing around ten percent of the global primary energy supply in 2010, and this percentage could be increased significantly. More than two billion people depend on wood energy for cooking and heating, mostly in developing countries. In parts of Africa, woodfuel – often the only domestically available and affordable source of energy – accounts for almost 90 percent of primary energy consumption.

The carbon captured by trees from the atmosphere can be stored for decades in long-lived wood products such as construction timber and furniture; thus, a wood-based carbon pool exists outside forests in the form of finished wood products. While such products continue to store carbon, the forests from which they were harvested, if subject to SFM, regrow and thereby sequester additional carbon from the atmosphere. Increasing the use of wood in long-lived applications is therefore another strategy for climate-change mitigation and green economic development.

Mangrove seedlingsAdaptation to climate change. Climate change can have both negative and positive impacts on forests. For example, some regions may experience increases in rainfall, which might increase forest growth, but other regions are likely to be affected by an increasing frequency and intensity of wildfire, floods, landslides, drought, storms and pest outbreaks and by the spread of invasive alien species. Climate change could change the distribution of forest types, the occurrence of tree species, the capacity of forests to deliver environmental services (such as those involved in protecting watersheds and soils), forest productivity, the suitability of habitats for certain species of flora and fauna, and the availability of food and other forest products and environmental services. The incidence of forest fire is increasing in many parts of the world, and new climate-related threats to forest health, vitality and biodiversity are emerging. Mountain, dryland and coastal forests are particularly vulnerable. It is possible that climate change will lead to large-scale forest dieback (in which a large part of the vegetation dies), causing the emission of large quantities of greenhouse gases, further exacerbating climate change.

SFM has the flexibility to be adapted in the light of accumulated experience and new information. Adaptive approaches to SFM can help increase forest resilience through such measures as the selection, in reforestation initiatives, of tree species and provenances suited to the new climatic conditions, and silvicultural regimes that develop stand structures suited to anticipated changes in soil, water and natural habitats. SFM can also contribute to the resilience of indigenous peoples and other local communities by ensuring that forests are capable of maintaining their supply of forest goods and environmental services. Many forest management measures for climate-change adaptation are compatible with other SFM objectives, leading to win–win outcomes.

last updated:  Sunday, June 22, 2014