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Forests and Climate Change

Forests and trees - a key part of the climate change equation

As trees are long-lived organisms they are likely to be particularly vulnerable to the rapid change in climate predicted for the 21st century - raising issues of climate change adaptation.  At the same time, forests affect the climate system in various ways.  While deforestation is responsible for approximately one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, healthy forests have the capacity to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, thus mitigating climate change, as well as influencing water cycles and reflectivity of the earths surface.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC-1992) recognised the need to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.

In the Kyoto Protocol  to the UNFCCC, industrialised countries (“Annex-I Parties”) committed themselves to limit their net greenhouse gas emissions.  Both the UNFCCC and the Protocol recognise the role of forests in removing CO2 from the atmosphere.  Forest-relevant provisions of the Protocol include:

  1. Obligatory accounting by Annex-I Parties for greenhouse gas emissions/removals resulting from afforestation, reforestation and deforestation and optional accounting by Annex-I Parties for emissions/removals resulting from forest management in their own territories
  2. Actions under the “Joint Implementation” mechanism, by which an Annex-I Party receives credits for emission reductions resulting from projects implemented in another Annex-I Party.  All activities mentioned under point 1 are eligible.
  3. Actions under the “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM), by which an Annex-I Party receives credits for emission reductions resulting from projects implemented in developing countries (“non- Annex-I Parties”).  These can only include afforestation and reforestation

The Working Group on forest related sinks, set up in 2002 under the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP), has produced a report that outlines the most promising measures that can increase the contribution of forests to the mitigation of climate change. Forest-related actions will also be considered in the second phase of the ECCP, launched in 2005.

Increasing the share of renewable energy sources (RES) is crucial for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Forestry can contribute by providing biomass, mostly for electricity and heat production. The Commission has adopted in December 2005 a Biomass Action Plan COM(2005)628  in which the contribution of EU forests to generate energy from biomass plays an important part.

Wood can also effectively substitute for other, more energy-intensive raw materials.