A view of primary rainforest in Honitetu village, West Seram regency, Maluku province, Indonesia on August 23, 2017. Ulet Ifansasti, CIFOR

Forests can help humanity adapt to climate change – report

To adapt to climate change, the world must look to forests, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Launched at the Global Landscapes Forum Climate 2022 event on the sidelines of the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP27), Forest-based adaptation: transformational adaptation through forests and trees underlines that forests have huge potential to support human life and reduce the risks and harm that climate change brings.

“Forests and trees can and should feature way more prominently in national adaptation policies and strategies to reduce climate-related risks and impacts, and help humanity adapt and thrive,” said Tiina Vähänen, Deputy Director of FAO’s Forestry Division.

To date, most climate policy on forests has focused on protecting them for their potential to mitigate the effects of climate change by storing carbon, making them vital to achieving SDG 13 (climate action). The biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by forests have been seen as a co-benefit in carbon-focused mitigation strategies instead of the other way around. And adaptation strategies have tended to invest in technological fixes instead of those that nature can provide.

Life support system

Forests and trees provide a life support system for humanity that will become increasingly important as temperatures rise and weather becomes more volatile, says the report.

Many parts of the world already face huge water shortages that could in future become so extreme that they trigger conflicts, famine and mass migration. Yet forests and trees are not yet widely recognized for the crucial role they play in ensuring water supplies and stabilizing local climates.

They also provide food, fuel, timber and fodder for millions of people and protect local communities from the impacts of ever more extreme weather.

With adaptation a key part of the agenda at COP27, the report presents case studies that demonstrate the power of local people, when given the right support, to stop deforestation, restore degraded forests and grow trees using a combination of traditional knowledge, the latest science and modern technology to transform landscapes from the Sahel to the Colombian jungle to ensure they protect and provide for millions of people as the world continues to warm.

Principles and recommendations

The report calls for investment in forests as an urgent and vital part of national adaptation and resilience policies and for the global community to support developing countries to do this.

It presents a set of principles to guide countries on how to use forests and trees to promote transformational adaptation, emphasizing the crucial role that Indigenous Peoples, forest-dependent communities, farmers and herders must play in leading the process.

Adaptation strategies must ensure meaningful support for these groups, who have the best knowledge and understanding of the local situation but are often among the world’s poorest and most marginalized populations, according to the report. Meanwhile, funding must urgently be channeled directly to these populations to enable them to secure land rights, gain access to markets for forest products, and influence policies to consider local interests, the report says.

National strategies must also include developing innovative and integrated ways to ensure that forests and trees themselves adapt to the increasing risks they face from climate change in the form of wildfires, pests, and disease outbreaks and drought.

“Ultimately, investing in this way in forests and the people who manage them could reduce climate-related risks and negative impacts on human life,” said Vähänen. “And this would also preserve the power of forests to continue to act as carbon sinks.”



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