Boreal forests are finally making the news. Also referred to as snow forests and taiga, they are the world’s largest land ecozone, spanning over Canada, China, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States and constitute one of the planet’s largest carbon sinks, holding 20% of the world’s carbon emissions. According to the International Boreal Forest Research Association (IBFRA), they represent about 30% of the global forest area, with more surface freshwater than any other biome, and large tracts of unmanaged forests. But their essential role in regulating the global climate which has gone unnoticed for many years is under threat.
Therefore, it has never been more urgent to understand the boreal forest ecosystems in a changing climate, as well as their special place as a much-needed asset of our universal climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. UNECE’s latest policy brief on “Boreal forests and climate change – from impacts to adaptation” underscores this urgent need for action to increase the resilience and adaptation of boreal forests to possible climate change scenarios.
Building on research by the UNECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Boreal Forests and the International Boreal Forest Research Association (IBFRA), the policy brief outlines the main expected environmental and economic impacts of climate change on the forests. This includes the initially expected increased both, tree growth owing to the longer growing season, and tree loss resulting from drier weather and outbreaks of pests, diseases, and intense wildfires. The most devastating result could be the reverse of the boreal forests’ current carbon sink to a carbon release effect. But climate change in boreal forests results also in an alteration of their biological diversity, a landscape transition with never-seen-before threats to trees, flora and fauna.
Recognizing that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are likely to have potentially profound climate-related effects on boreal forests, UNECE’s policy brief stresses the need for policymakers, experts and the general public to recognize that these remote forests play a key role in our fight against climate change. As climate change shifts are not expected to reverse any time soon, now is the time to find effective ways to adapt policy and legislative frameworks, climate smart forestry practices, forest restoration activities, and research to help our boreal forests withstand the effects of climate change and become part of the solution.
Read the policy brief here