In a world in constant evolution, marked by global warming and its impacts on the environment, attention is increasingly focused on the search for effective solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change. Among these solutions, forests emerge as essential actors in the fight against this global phenomenon. Beyond their beauty and biodiversity, forests play a crucial role in carbon absorption and climate regulation, making them a vital tool for preserving the ecological balance of our planet.
The report “The Effects of Forests on Climate Change” prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) highlights the significant relevance and role of forests as a crucial strategy in reducing climate change. In turn, it shows how forest degradation and human influence on natural resources are factors that accentuate the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and contribute to the process of climate change.
Multiple analyses and data clearly and terribly demonstrate the increase in global temperature. For example:
- The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached its highest level in three million years in 2018.
- In just 36 years, the melting of the Arctic led to the loss of about 2.5 million square kilometers of area.
- Between 2014 and 2019, the rate of sea level rise has risen to 5 mm per year.
THE CAPACITY OF FORESTS TO ABSORB CARBON
The fundamental process of forests and their role in climate change mitigation is their ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. Tree leaves capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and, using solar energy, convert it into glucose and oxygen. Glucose is used as an energy source for tree growth, while oxygen is released back into the environment. This process not only contributes to maintaining healthy oxygen levels in the atmosphere, but also acts as a natural carbon reservoir, helping to reduce the amount of CO2 that contributes to the greenhouse effect and, in turn, to global warming.
FORESTS AS CARBON STOCKS
In addition to their absorption capacity, forests also function as carbon reservoirs. The carbon stored in forest biomass, such as tree trunks and roots, acts as a reservoir that sequesters large amounts of carbon that would otherwise be present in the atmosphere as CO2. When forests are destroyed, often due to deforestation for agriculture or urbanization, this stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Therefore, conservation and sustainable forest management are essential to keep these carbon stocks intact and functional.
DEFORESTATION AND ITS IMPACT ON CLIMATE CHANGE
However, deforestation remains a challenge in the fight against climate change. As forests are cleared to make way for agricultural expansion, urbanization, and resource extraction, the carbon stored in the trees is released, increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and worsening the greenhouse effect. In addition, the loss of forest habitats can result in decreased biodiversity and altered regional climate patterns. Therefore, reducing deforestation and promoting reforestation and restoration of degraded forest areas is essential to counteract the effects of climate change.
The importance of forests in climate change mitigation has led to the implementation of conservation and sustainable management programs around the world. Initiatives such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) have been developed to provide economic incentives to countries and communities working to reduce their deforestation rates and improve forest management. These programs not only help preserve natural carbon reservoirs but also contribute to the well-being of local communities and biodiversity.
Until recently, efforts have focused on trying to reduce CO2 emissions. However, several reports and data provided by the scientific community have highlighted the need to broaden our actions to promote adaptation and mitigation policies in the face of climate change. These policies will help us minimize the impacts of this phenomenon, the consequences of which we are experiencing all over the planet.
These two possible solutions, mitigation and adaptation, are complementary in order to address climate change. Although each focuses on different challenges, they converge on a common end goal. But how do these strategies differ when applied to the forestry sector?
These strategies aim to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which ultimately fuel human-generated climate change. These actions include reducing emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation; improving the capacity of forests as major carbon sinks; or even changing production methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These interventions are designed to reduce the vulnerability of forests and forest-dependent people to climate change. These actions range from restoration and reforestation of forested landscapes; research and development on potential disasters, temperature patterns, etc., to prevention and precautionary measures, such as the development of evacuation plans and health issues.
Despite their differences, it is essential to recognize that mitigation and adaptation are mutually complementary strategies. Without mitigation, our ability to adapt will be quickly overwhelmed. Moreover, an adaptation that does not take greenhouse gas emissions into account would be meaningless, as it would be going against the objectives we are striving to achieve. Adopting both strategies in a balanced manner is essential to effectively address the challenges of climate change and safeguard our planet for future generations.