Archive for December, 2009

Expert Panel on International Forest Regime (GFEP)

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25 political scientists met in Vienna last week to start drafting the most comprehensive scientific report on the international forest regime. The report will be officially published in January 2011 on the occasion of the 9th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests.

More specifically, the assessment aims to contribute to

  • the international forest deliberations and international  forest-related processes such as the ninth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (January  2011), the tenth Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (October 2010), and the discussion on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD);
  • the improvement of coordination among political actors, policy instruments and institutions;
  • the International Year of Forests 2011 by raising awareness about the role of international instruments and institutions affecting forests.


Trees: A Low-Cost Climate Mitigation Tool



2nd in a series of releases relating to the XXIII IUFRO World Congress

(Vienna, 21 December 2009) – The forest sector has huge potential to mitigate the effects of climate change at low costs. The reason is that trees provide one proven way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

That opportunity makes it critically important to understand exactly which forest-related activities can contribute to mitigation benefits. Such understanding will then lead to a science-based dialogue about which activities contribute to climate change mitigation and which may make it worse. That will then lead to tools to support informed, responsible policy development.

“Reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation is the most important first step, because it has an immediate impact,” says Dr. Werner Kurz, of the Canadian Forest Service, who notes that in the ‘90s, deforestation emissions globally were found to contribute an amount equivalent to about 20% of fossil fuel emissions.

Dr. Kurz, who will coordinate a session to explore the potential of forest sector activities to mitigate climate change at the 2010 IUFRO World Forestry Congress in Seoul, adds: “Biomass derived from forests contributes to meeting society’s demands for timber, fibre and energy. But further analyses are needed to help identify and implement the climate mitigation activities that deliver the greatest climate mitigation benefits.”

The issues are challenging and will foster lively, heated, discussion. As an example, some argue for conservation – keep the carbon in the forest because today’s carbon is what matters in the atmosphere. Others argue, among other things, using harvested biomass to store carbon in wood products and to use biomass from harvest residues or bioenergy plantations as sources of bioenergy to substitute for fossil fuels. To design an effective climate mitigation portfolio, carbon costs and benefits and their dynamics must be quantified over time, Kurz says.

Will northern forests be able to stand the heat?

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Boreal forests are especially sensitive to global warming and are likely to be severely affected by climate change.

In international climate change negotiations, forest-related deliberations have so far mainly focused on mitigation, rather than adaptation.  However, in the particularly vulnerable boreal regions, climate change is progressing too quickly to postpone adaptation action.  Flexible approaches tailored to local situations must go hand in hand with substantial reductions of carbon emissions from fossil fuel and deforestation.  Otherwise forests are at high risk of entirely losing their carbon-regulating services.  This would, in turn, seriously accelerate climate change, a fact that has not yet been fully considered in current model generation.

In total, around 210% of the carbon in the atmosphere is stored in forest ecosystems and the boreal biome, which is the second largest terrestrial biome with one third of the Earth’s forested area, has been estimated to contain up to 30% of all carbon stored in the terrestrial biomes.  It mainly includes forests in North America, the Nordic countries and Russia.  This region is expected to experience more warming than equatorial zones and its temperature-limited forests will therefore particularly suffer. Higher temperatures along with prolonged droughts, will lead to more intense pest infestations, fires and other environmental stresses that consequently will cause considerable forest degradation and destruction. Today, research points us to the fact that there are options to reduce the vulnerability of forest ecosystems and to help forests adapt to climate change.  Coinciding with the UNFCCC Climate Summit, the Forest Day 3 Learning Event on 13 December 2009 co-hosted by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and the European Forest Institute (EFI), looked at these options and informed participants about key impacts and vulnerabilities as well as priorities for adaptation and implications for forest management. This learning event confirmed the key findings of the Global Assessment Report on Adaptation of Forests and People to Climate Change that was published in April 2009 by IUFRO and which presented the state of scientific knowledge of current and projected impacts of climate change on forests and people along with options for adaptation.According to the report, climate change is expected to affect the distribution of forest types and tree species.  Evidence from past climate changes shows that tree species respond individually, but for the boreal domain a shift of the entire biome to the north is expected although the time frame for this shift is uncertain. At first, higher temperatures and precipitation could lead to increased growth and substantial gains in the supply of timber, as a study on the Impacts of climate change on the growth of managed boreal forests in Finland (Kellomäki et al. 2008) shows, but in the end the positive effects of such growth will most likely be outweighed by the increased prevalence of fire, storms, pests and diseases.

Therefore, forest managers need to support the adaptive potential of forests. “Taking into account local circumstances, fine scale local adaptation in itself is a challenge in the face of rapid climate change – but also reveals a unique property of tree species to adapt to environment”, said Professor Erik Dahl Kjær, Head of Research of the School for Forest, Landscape and Planning at the University of Copenhagen, at the Learning Event.  In his presentation he borrowed a metaphor from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the looking-glass’. There the Red Queen tells Alice that in Wonderland she needs to run as fast as she can just to keep staying under the same tree.  Now, due to human induced climate changes, it is the trees that will have ‘to run as fast as they can’ to stay adapted.

To help them win the race, there is a need to reduce vulnerability of forest ecosystems by reducing their exposure to climate change, decreasing their sensitivity and maintaining or increasing their resilience.  Following the observations and thoughts of Charles Darwin 150 years ago, one way of achieving this goal is supporting natural selection by ensuring that forests rest on a highly diverse genetic foundation suitable for this natural selection to work. In addition, measures such as cutting forest fuel loads, planting hardier species, increasing reservoir storage capacity to help avoid water stress in drought conditions, or thinning overstocked stands need to be implemented as part of sustainable forest management.

“Policy makers should focus greater attention on helping forests and the people who live around them to adapt to anticipated problems,” confirmed Professor Risto Seppälä from the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) and Immediate Past President of IUFRO, who chaired the expert panel that produced the Global Assessment Report.  And he emphasized, “Wider application of well-understood sustainable forestry practices, which offer a range of benefits, could help forests avoid some of the damage induced by climate change.”

So, planning how to manage forests in order to make them fit for climate change is a first step towards adapting.  In this planning process, however, it is imperative to integrate the people who live in or from the forest.  Their livelihoods will be severely threatened by the expected increases in extreme weather events such as heat stress, drought, storms, and flooding and their related impacts.  Many forest-dependent indigenous peoples and local communities hold traditional knowledge about the sustainable forest and water management that can help them respond to climate change stress, and such local knowledge can complement formal science.

At the Learning Event, Ms. Rose Kushniruk, a representative of the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation in Yukon, Canada, presented an existent example of such a successful participatory approach. “It was the severe spruce bark beetle infestation in the Yukon region that made the community people realize how their values were being impacted”, said Ms. Kushniruk.  As a response, the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation Traditional Territory’s Forest Management Plan was set up.  The plan emphasizes the local situation and its purpose is to provide direction for sustainable forest management in the area.

Ms Kushniruk explained, “From a global perspective, the change we need is overwhelming and people at times in the north don’t know how to react to that, it makes you feel hopeless in your little corner of the world. But we need to do small things at the community level and to meaningfully incorporate and truly listen to all levels of knowledge, pool that knowledge. The knowledge we get from western science, local people and aboriginal people, when combined, is very powerful and respected.  We need to start small at the community, find local community champions to move this forward. Once local people see something they love or value is being taken away or changed you’ll have their attention, then anything can happen.”

To meet the challenges of adaptation, reduce the vulnerability of forests and people to climate change and achieve successful mitigation, a series of measures need to be combined.  Besides a reduction of emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation, these range from new modes of governance that enable meaningful stakeholder participation, to strengthening sustainable management and broadening the genetic diversity of species.  However, there is still poor understanding of how adaptation really works; the challenge is left for those dedicated to find out.  As Professor Kjær put it, “At this stage it seems smart to invest a bit in both getting smarter – and in keeping options open.”


PDF version of the press release


Boreal and temperate forests: What will happen? What actions should be taken?

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Learning Event  – Organized by IUFRO and EFI (European Forest Institute) During Forest Day 3 in Copenhagen (UNFCCC-COP15)

Boreal and temperate forests are likely to be particularly affected by climate change because they are generally temperature-limited. With climate change advancing, their role as a major sink for atmospheric carbon is at risk. This session informed participants about this and other key impacts and vulnerabilities and discussed adaptation priorities and implications for forest management. The learning session also explored how lessons from the EU programme Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) could be used for forest-based climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Forests, Livelihoods & Climate Change

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A side event organized during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15)

This joint event organized by IUFRO, ITTO (International Tropical Timber Organization) and Intercooperation (Swiss Foundation for Development and International Cooperation) will address the ongoing and new activities to promote social, economic and environmental benefits of forests that contribute to sustainable livelihoods in the framework of climate change mitigation, adaptation and ecosystem restoration.





Introduction to the side event (Mr. Alexander Buck, IUFRO Deputy Executive Director)


International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)


ITTO Thematic Programme on REDDES (Mr. Emmanuel Ze Meka, Executive Director of ITTO)

Voluntary Forest Carbon Offset Projects in Japan (Mr. Noriuki Kobayashi, Professor of Nihon University Law School, Japan)

Public-Private Partnership to promote REDD+ in Meru Betiri National Park, Indonesia (Ms. Nur Masripatin, Director of FORDA, MoF, Indonesia)



Making REDD Happen in Reality – Experiences from the REDD-FORECA Pilot Project in Madagascar (Ms. Julia Randimbisoa – Climate change focal point in Madagascar)


International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO)

Will Forests Be Able to Stand the Heat? Main results of a global assessment (Mr. Peter Mayer, IUFRO Executive Director)

Making African Forests Fit for Climate Change – Key messages to policy and decision makers (Mr. Stephy David Makungwa, Chair of thematic group “Forests and Climate Change” of the Forestry Research Network for Sub-Saharan Africa)

IUFRO - The International Union of Forest Research Organizations