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Impact of climate change on forests requires early action

Forest managers should invest more in climate change response – new guidelines published

Photo: ©FAO/Ch. Errath
Forest managers are encouraged to take early action in response to climate change.

17 September 2013, Rome - Early action and more investments are needed to respond to the threats of climate change on the world's forests. It will probably cost less to adjust forest management strategies immediately to the impacts of climate change than to react to the aftermath of climate-inflicted damage, FAO said in its new Climate change guidelines for forest managers.

Early action will also help to improve the livelihoods and food security of local communities. Decreased forest ecosystem services, especially water-cycle regulation, soil protection and the conservation of biodiversity, may affect millions of people in rural areas, who use forests for food, fuel, timber, medicines and income. For example, 4-5 million women in West Africa earn about 80 percent of their income from the collection, processing, and the marketing of nuts harvested from shea trees. 

"Climate change is impairing the ability of forests to deliver critical goods and ecosystem services. Forest managers urgently need to respond to a wide range of threats posed by climate change. These guidelines will help them to assess and monitor the climate-change impacts applicable for each type of forest and region," said Simmone Rose, FAO's Forestry Officer.

"For example, Asia is affected by the increase of extreme weather events, in some parts of Latin America rising temperatures and lower rainfall have resulted in the increased incidence of forest fires, whereas more severe droughts in Africa in recent years threaten already scarce water resources in the region," she said.

The document provides guidance on how to identify, assess and prioritize options for adjusting forest management practices in response to climate change. 

Water availability and quality 

Climate change is altering precipitation and runoff patterns. While some parts of the world are experiencing reduced precipitation and drought, others are suffering from more intense rainfall and associated erosion and flooding. Forests in upper watersheds reduce storm runoff and erosion, and forests adjacent to water bodies help stabilize river banks, reduce the amount of sediments entering the water and filter pollutants.

Forests' capacity to contribute to water availability and quality will be reduced if they are negatively affected by climate change. Forest managers should anticipate and respond to these threats by identifying watersheds that are most vulnerable to climate change. Maintaining healthy forests and restoring degraded ones in the watershed will help to reduce erosion, to increase slope stability and to ensure the availability of clean and regular water supplies.  


Fire prevention: enlisting local communities

The risk of forest fires is expected to increase with higher temperatures and decreased precipitation due to climate change. Promoting landscapes that impede fire spread and forest species that are fire-resistent are important strategies in fire management. Agricultural burnings should take place before the peak of the dry season. This type of management is often beyond the scope of forest managers and they are encouraged to engage local communities in fire management.

Pests and diseases

Climate change, particularly extreme weather events, can affect forest pests and the damage they cause directly, by altering their reproduction and spread, and indirectly by changing the abundance of competitors, parasites and predators.

Prevention measures may include the selection of species and varieties to suit the local conditions and thinning practices that reduce pest populations and favour natural enemies. The careful monitoring of pest populations will help determine when control activities are needed.

The guidelines were presented last week at the 28th Session of the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission (LACFC).