Average annual temperatures in Africa have risen steadily over the past decades and an even higher increase is predicted for the years ahead. Current climate models project a mean temperature rise of 3–4°C across the continent by the end of this century, which would be approximately 1.5 times the global average increase. Do African forest ecosystems have a chance to adapt to such conditions and can they still provide the vital goods and services that people in Africa so strongly depend on?
Today the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) has launched a Policy Brief that focuses exactly on these questions. The publication with the title “Making African Forests Fit for Climate Change: A regional View of Climate-Change Impacts on Forests and People and Options for Adaptation”, has been presented at the current fourteenth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nairobi, Kenya. It is the result of cooperation between the IUFRO-led initiative “Global Forest Expert Panels” (GFEP) of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, the IUFRO Special Programme for Developing Countries (IUFRO-SPDC), and key experts from the Forestry Research Network for Sub-Saharan Africa (FORNESSA).
The Policy Brief underlines the crucial role that African forests play in supporting peoples’ livelihoods. The vast majority of rural populations in Africa rely on woody biomass as an energy source, and some 70-80% of Africans are estimated to depend on plant medicines for their healthcare to name but two examples. Now, however, climate change is putting sustainable development at risk. The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, especially those related to environmental sustainability and the elimination of poverty and hunger, is threatened. Extreme events such as droughts and floods are expected to happen more often and the projected impacts on forest biodiversity and water quantity and quality will be severe. “Consequently, individuals, societies and institutions should be aware of the likely impacts of climate change on forests and should have adaptation strategies in place to address them”, concludes Dr. Victor Agyeman, Director of the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana and current Chairman of FORNESSA.
Of course, there are still major gaps in knowledge about the impacts of climate change on forests and people in Africa and about how adaptation measures can best be tailored to local conditions. In any case, it will be important to use participatory approaches to obtain a better understanding of local knowledge and perceptions of climate change. Moreover, new modes of governance should enhance effective stakeholder and community participation, transparent and accountable decision-making, and the equitable sharing of benefits. And thirdly, strategies for adapting forests to climate change must be coordinated with those of other sectors and integrated into national and regional development programmes and strategies. In general, climate change is adding to a range of other pressures on forest ecosystems in Africa, such as agricultural expansion and the over-use of forests. “It is obvious that measures that reduce such non-climatic human-induced pressures can help reduce the overall vulnerability of forest ecosystems”, says Dr. Stevy Makungwa, climate change expert at FORNESSA.
These are some of the key messages conveyed by the new African Policy Brief that is based on a detailed analysis of relevant information contained in the global assessment report “Adaptation of Forests and People to Climate Change” (IUFRO World Series Volume 22) and more than 250 additional literature references identified by African experts.