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)

A Rebirth for the Forests of Asia

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.

IUFRO and FAO: 60 years of collaboration at the XIII World Forestry Congress

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The celebration of 60 years of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, IUFRO, and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, took place in conjunction with the XIII World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

There has been long history of collaboration between IUFRO and FAO, which started with the signing of the MOU in 1949. FAO started working with International NGO’s shortly after its creation in the mid-1940s and at that time, it was even considered to incorporate IUFRO into FAO in order to formulate research aims more clearly, to avoid duplication of research projects, and to reduce costs.

While this consideration was not put into practice, in 1949 IUFRO worked out an agreement with the Forestry Department of FAO whereby IUFRO retained its independent status, but had a specialized consultative status with FAO. To this day, FAO has observer status on IUFRO’s Board (representation usually is through its Assistant Director General, in 2009, Jan Heino).

FAO and IUFRO are both committed to collaborate in some of the projects and programs with among others, the theme of forest education, forest terminology, and the role of science in national forest programs. Many IUFRO activities have been supported and until now are being assisted by FAO. For instance, IUFRO’s Special Program for Developing Countries (IUFRO-SPDC) was jointly established by IUFRO and FAO in 1983 and has since then served as a mechanism for research capacity development. Through IUFRO-SPDC, IUFRO provides assistance for the long-term development of the capacities of individual scientists and research institutions in developing countries. Together they have focused on the Forestry Research Network for Sub-Saharan Africa (FORNESSA).

During the last years, FAO and IUFRO have actively worked in the frame of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). IUFRO as the leading organization of the Global Forest Information Service (GFIS) and the Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP) highly appreciates the effort of FAO as chair organization of the CPF.

Please leave your comments on this article and to find out more information about IUFRO-FAO collaborations, we encourage you to visit IUFRO’s website.

Forests for the Future: Sustaining Society and the Environment

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…

IUFRO World Congress 2010 – News Stories

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.

IUFRO - The International Union of Forest Research Organizations