Forests and climate change in the Mediterranean

New partnership established to address threats to forests

6 April 2011, Rome/Avignon - A new partnership for Mediterranean forests has been established to address major threats to the region's forests being exacerbated by the severe impact of climate change. The partnership was announced at the Second Mediterranean Forest Week, which is taking place in Avignon, France (5-8 April).

"The Collaborative Partnership on Mediterranean Forests will help raise awareness on the wealth of vital functions Mediterranean forests provide. These include soil and water protection, landscape values, carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation. It is urgent that we join efforts to restore and preserve their functions for future generations," said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Forestry Department.

The partnership involves 12 institutions and organizations including FAO and will focus primarily on six countries in the southern and eastern Mediterranean: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The new partnership offers a way for stakeholders in the region to address the mounting challenges facing Mediterranean forests and draw greater attention to their value and the urgent need to protect them.

The Mediterranean Basin every year loses between 0.7 and one million hectares of forests due to fires, corresponding to an economic loss of an estimated €1 billion.

The Mediterranean region is confronted with a considerable increase in longer and more frequent drought and heat waves, resulting in the growing risk of large scale forest fires as well as more water scarcity, affecting both rural and urban populations.

Forests affected by numerous threats

Total forest area in the Mediterranean region is 73 million hectares, or 8.5 percent of the region's total land area. Mediterranean forests provide a diversity of products such as wood, non-wood forest products including cork, fodder for livestock and aromatic plants and game, all of which are important for socio-economic development and contribute to food security and poverty alleviation in rural areas.

But Mediterranean forests also are facing a mix of threats such as climatic change, agricultural expansion, tourism, urban development and other land use practices that are contributing to forest losses.

For example, in the northern Mediterranean, where forest land is mostly privately-owned, vegetation has spread extensively as a result of natural dynamics and, as a consequence of the lack of hands-on management, the risk of wildfires has increased.

In the south, growing pressure on forest resources by overgrazing, forest clearance for other uses, over-collection of fuel wood and charcoal are among the factors contributing to forest degradation and deforestation.

Action needed at all levels

The partnership is designed to integrate policies and investments at the country level in order to adapt forests to climate change; this would involve sectors such as forestry, agriculture, urban development, water, environment, land use planning, education and tourism.  It is also aimed at developing a joint regional approach to forest management and in particular, to wildfire prevention, through the sharing of expertise, knowledge and best practices.

At a local level the partnership will help to promote sustainable forest management among all stakeholders, including local communities, forest owners and managers, farmers, herders, environmentalists, protected areas managers and researchers.

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
The new partnership will help to protect Mediterranean forests in the face of climate change, Dar Fatma Forests, North Tunisia.