Forests play a major role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is stored as carbon in trees, soils, and other organic matter in forests.
As trees grow, it takes in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis and stores it as carbon. Organisms living in forest soils take in carbon dioxide where it is stored as carbon in the soil.
The process of taking in carbon dioxide and storing it as carbon is known as carbon sequestration.
Because forests are such a vast pool of carbon, large quantities of carbon dioxide will be emitted into the atmosphere when a forest is cut down. The clearing of forests represents a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, second only to fossil fuel combustion. This contributes to about one sixth global CO2 emissions, or one eighth of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
Forests and Climate Change Mitigation — REDD+
Curbing the clearing of forests is a major and necessary tactic in the fight against climate change. This has led to the development of a framework called REDD+. REDD+ is an effort led by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, along with conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (planting forests).
As most of our rural communities depend on forests for food, water, shelter, energy and their livelihood, REDD+ would ensure that these substantial benefits, in addition to reducing emissions, continue.
In addition, REDD+ reforestation and forest restoration activities would usher in the ecological, social and economical benefits provided by forests, in addition to increasing carbon pools.
Fiji has been carrying out REDD-readiness activities since 2009 with REDD+ pilot sites established in Navosa and Dogotuki (Macuata).
At the end of the readiness phase Fiji should have set up an institutional and monitoring framework that defines how Fiji will effectively reduce carbon dioxide emissions through REDD+ activities and how equitable benefit distribution to the local resource owners will be ensured.
These actions will be guided by the National REDD+ Policy (2011) and the National REDD+ Strategy (in draft). Forests and Climate Change Adaptation (adapted from CIFOR fact sheet, No.1, November 2012)
Sustainably managing our forests and establishing more forests on degraded and untilised land will deliver a range of benefits that will support local communities and ecosystems to adapt to climate change. These include:
- Safety nets: Forests are important safety nets for communities, helping them cope with climate shocks. Many forest products are more resilient to climate variability and extremes than crops, and so are crucial to the resilience of local livelihoods. If crops fail because of drought or assets are lost because of floods, communities can sell forest and tree products — timber, fuelwood and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) — for income and source food from the forest, including for their livestock
- Agriculture: Trees on farms protect the soil and regulate water and microclimate, and help protect crops and livestock from climate variability. Crops grown in agroforestry systems are more resilient to drought, excess precipitation, and temperature fluctuations and extremes.
- Watersheds: Forests contribute to regulating river flows — base flows during dry seasons and peak flows during rainfall events — minimising risks related to water scarcity and floods. In Flores, Indonesia, for example, tropical forested watersheds have been shown to increase base flows and reduce the impacts of drought on downstream agrarian communities.
- Coasts: Coastal forests such as mangroves help reduce risks from disasters relating to climate extremes (storms or cyclones) and sea-level rise (coastal flooding).
Research in India and Vietnam has shown that coastal settlements with mangroves in close proximity suffer less damage from such events than those without.
- Cities: Urban forests and trees provide green infrastructure — shade, evaporative cooling, and rainwater interception, storage and infiltration — in cities.
- Regional climate: Tropical forests influence precipitation and can have a cooling effect on a region through increased evaporation and cloud cover.