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.
Committing finances to something as long-term as forest monitoring can be unsettling for politicians. Their careers hinge on regular elections – at short-term intervals.
Putting money into monitoring “makes good sense… But we need to show them that it makes sense,” said Konstantin von Teuffel, of the Forest Research Institute in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. “If, for example, politicians are to decide on subsidy programs, or decide on legislation or policies on climate change, they need to know what state the forests are in. And they need to know based on sound scientific measurements taken over a reasonably lengthy period of time, not assumptions.”
Dr. von Teuffel will coordinate a session linking long-term scientific forest monitoring to political decision-making at the 2010 IUFRO World Congress in Seoul.
He plans to build on information gathered in Buenos Aires at the World Forestry Congress last fall, where politicians and decision-makers involved in forest issues were asked about their expectations in regard to monitoring activities. “That input will be presented to the scientists in Seoul and we will discuss how best to respond to the policy makers’ needs,” he said. “We must show that monitoring is connected to real world decisions.”
He sees his session helping to increase awareness of the importance of long-term monitoring – the challenges, opportunities and priorities. It will bring together people from all continents and, he anticipates, result in a catalogue of guidelines that will allow researchers to group and prioritize forest-monitoring needs and also outline some best practices.
Forestry is moving out of the country and into the cities.
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“More than half the world’s population now lives in cities and towns and more forests are coming under urban influence. As foresters we’d better make sure we’re prepared to work in urban settings,” says Professor Cecil Konijnendijk of the University of Copenhagen.
Urban forests, in addition to making cities more attractive, promote human health and well-being, sequester carbon, filter pollutants from the air, provide shade, reduce wind and flooding, improve urban microclimates and protect urban drinking water resources.
“Urban forests and trees are part of the solution to some of the big issues of the day,” he says. “Think climate change, where urban vegetation can help cities adapt to higher temperatures, freak weather occurrences and the like; or trees producing food to help ease shortages in some developing countries.
“But,” says Professor Konijnendijk, who will coordinate a session on promoting urban forest partnerships between scientists and communities at the 2010 IUFRO World Forestry Congress in Seoul, “we still lack knowledge about how trees grow in urban settings and what their optimum contributions are or can be in terms of the goods and services they provide.
“We need to find how to protect, design and develop them in a better way. We, as scientists, have to collaborate closely with those who plan and manage our urban forests,” he says.
(Vienna, 15 February 2010) – Contemporary African societies are a mix of modernized, western society and traditional African roots. Those traditions mean that people – rural and urban – still consume bushmeat for reasons linked to culture, taste and attachment to healthy, natural products.
However, the scale of hunting occurring in Central Africa poses a threat to many tropical forest species. The response to this has typically been legal: ban the trade in bushmeat and criminalize the hunters and consumers.
This, said Nathalie Van Vliet, Bushmeat strategic advisor for TRAFFIC, has not been terribly effective. The trade continues to flourish but in a hidden economy that makes it more difficult to manage or control.
Those in the bushmeat trade who make money out of the commercialisation of rare species for the urban markets need to be strictly controlled. However, those who eat bushmeat for their own nutrition or sell bushmeat to pay for medicines or school fees, should not be presented as criminals,” she says.
Dr. Van Vliet will coordinate a session dealing with the hunting of bushmeat in Central Africa at the 2010 IUFRO World Congress in Seoul.
She hopes her session will reach beyond conservationists to also integrate the input of social, health and economic stakeholders to help develop more integrated bushmeat strategies and policies.
Managing for wildlife habitat, soil stability, water, medicinal plants and foods – nuts, berries, and mushrooms – as well as timber resources, are now all part of most forest development plans and goals.
Today’s forest management looks toward sustaining a variety of resources as well as revenue from timber products. That’s at least partly because “a diversity of plant and animal species can improve the ability of a stand to survive under dramatic changes in environmental conditions including climate change,” says Dr. Valerie LeMay, Professor of Forest Biometrics and Measurements at Canada’s University of British Columbia.
It’s a change from the past when forests were managed primarily for timber resources. Today’s forest managers realize that even the structure of a stand – the variation in tree heights, diameters, location and species and the number of dead trees standing or lying in it – is an important aspect of managing for multiple benefits, she said.
Large gaps in a tree stand, for instance, provide light for new tree growth, but also for grasses, herbs, shrubs and other vegetation that often provide food for deer and other wildlife.
The question though, is how best to manage all this? Dr. LeMay and Dr. Peter Newton, Research Scientist at Natural Resources Canada, will coordinate a session that deals with managing and measuring stand structure for a diverse array of forest products at the 2010 IUFRO World Congress in Seoul.
Only healthy forests can provide many important services upon which we rely – air quality and water cycle regulation; biodiversity and soil protection; carbon sequestration and mitigation of climate change, and social and cultural value.
Forest health has long been threatened by insect pests and diseases accidentally moved to new areas. More recently, climate change has become one of the greatest threats to forest and tree health, says Elena Paoletti, senior scientist at the Institute for Plant Protection of the National Council of Research of Italy. She adds “Climate change and air pollution pose new threats to forests and change their ability to tolerate stressors.”
Historically, climatic extremes, air pollution, insects and disease have been the main factors adversely affecting forest health. Understanding how these stress agents are affected by, and respond to climatic change is fundamental to our efforts to mitigate the impacts of a changing environment. Adaptive forest strategies must be developed.
She notes that, among other issues, climate change is resulting in the expansion of distribution ranges of some insect pests and pathogens. These range shifts have the potential to be permanent and to have significant implications on the future health of the world’s forests.
Dr. Paoletti will coordinate a sub-plenary session at the 2010 IUFRO World Congress in Seoul. The aim will be to update forest scientists and managers regarding new breakthroughs in the field of forest tree health and especially to better understand the multi-faceted aspects of climate change.
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.
Over-exploitation for wood and fuel, land conversion to agriculture, forest fire, expansion of desert areas, drought and illegal logging, in the past, were among the factors that have caused major degradation of Asia’s forests.
More recently, as awareness of the problems and excesses grew, efforts at rehabilitation began to emerge. Some of the rehabilitation successes started with government programs then spread to industry, non-government organizations and local communities.
The growing economies in Asia, home of 14% of the world’s forests and more than 60% of its population, create many challenges and opportunities – economically, environmentally and socially – for the forests, which play important roles in these countries.
Forest scientists from various regions in Asia, who have responded to this challenge through an initiative called Keep Asia Green, will be among those discussing at the 2010 IUFRO World Congress in Seoul the history, current status, success and failures of forest rehabilitation efforts in their countries.
“The Seoul discussions around Keep Asia Green – the lessons learned and success stories – will allow those from any part of the world confronted with the degradation of forests, to assess what approaches could be adopted and applied successfully to address the challenges they face at home”, says IUFRO President Professor Don K. Lee.
Human well-being is highly dependent on the well-being of the world’s forests. Among many other benefits, forests provide the resource for building materials and renewable energy, take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They also protect against erosion and influence local and global climate. Many medicines are derived from forest plants.
The XXIII IUFRO World Congress from 23-28 August 2010 in Seoul, Korea, will be a great opportunity for researchers and decision-makers to learn, to share best practices, and to synthesize the newest and most innovative thinking on the forest challenges that affect all of us. Read more…
As part of the Congress promotional activities, IUFRO will produce a series of pre-Congress releases that will highlight areas of each of the nine themes to be addressed during the Congress.
- Forests and Climate Change
- Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use of Forest Resource
- Forest Environmental Services
- Asia’s Forests for the Future
- Forest Products and Production Processes for a Greener Future
- Emerging Technologies in the Forest Sector
- Frontiers in Forest and Tree Health
- Forests, Communities and Cultures
- Forests, Human Health and Environmental Security
The first IUFRO World Congress already took place over a hundred years ago in Germany. Since then it has been bringing together scientists and stakeholders to discuss priority areas of forest research, policy and management. The Congress is held at 5-year intervals, and in August 2010 will be in Seoul, the Republic of Korea.