Forests might flip from carbon sink to source

Ecologists point to forests as important sinks for atmospheric carbon. But a new report suggests that climate change could induce environmental stresses that would chnge the role of forests into a net carbon source.

The report, titled “Adaptation of Forests and People to Climate Change – A Global Assessment,” was coordinated by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). The findings came from an analysis of how different forest ecosystems worldwide would be affected under specific climate change scenarios developed by the IPCC report. The report brings together 35 international forest scientists, some of whom contributed to the IPCC.

The study reports that higher temperatures would usher in the probability of prolonged droughts, more intense pest invasions, and a host of other environmental stresses, which would lead to forest destruction and degradation. Climate change could thus create a dangerous feedback loop in which damage to forests significantly increases global carbon emissions, which then exacerbates the greenhouse effect. This scenario is likely to occur if the world warms more than 4.5 degrees Farenheit.

According to Andreas Fischlin of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, a lead author of the study and a coordinating lead author with the IPCC:

“Even if adaptation measures are fully implemented, unmitigated climate change would, during the course of the current century, exceed the adaptive capacity of many forests. The fact remains that the only way to ensure that forests do not suffer unprecedented harm is to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report will be formally presented at the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) session taking place April 20-May 9 at the UN Headquarters in New York City.

Author: Christine Buckley

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1 Comment

  1. This issue is something that has been lurking in the back of my mind. I think what we need to do now is take a look at the areas that climate change experts predict will be more moist, more suitable for forests than prior to climate change. Then we can propose planting trees in those areas, according to soil type and surrounding landscape.

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