Forests and climate change
CLI-MIT: Climate change mitigation and adaptation in Irish forests
Programme manager: Dr Kevin Black
There is now convincing scientific evidence that global climate change is occurring rapidly as a result of human activities, such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation. Global and regional climate change will create many challenges and opportunities for Irish forestry. Because of their long life cycles, trees are expected to be more sensitive to large and fast shifts in climate patterns, much faster than those experienced in the past. Forests interact with both the climate and atmosphere: on the one hand, they are vulnerable to climate change but, on the other hand, they are likely to contribute to emissions reductions and carbon sinks. In fact it is difficult to discuss adaptation to climate change with a forest decision maker without any comment about carbon sequestration and mitigation of greenhouse effect. Similarly, mitigation cannot be planned without any hypotheses about the future forest vulnerability. The key objective of the CLI-MIT programme is to provide stakeholders with the required tools and knowledge for formulating and achieving effective mitigation and adaptation policies. This requires a good knowledge of the impact of climate change, international and EU policy, carbon reporting mechanisms, and issues relating to forest carbon sinks.
The EU is committed to reducing its overall emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and is ready to scale up this reduction to as much as 30% under a new global climate change agreement when other developed countries make comparable efforts. At a national level, this puts more emphasis on emission reduction rather than mitigation by forest sinks because of technical and institutional barriers such as land availability, and the ability to finance forestry projects will reduce the potential to a fraction of the stated amount. The National Climate Change Strategy sets out a series of measures that are designed to meet Ireland's greenhouse gas emission target over the period to the end of 2012. Forest sinks (afforestation since 1990 - the Kyoto forest) is by far the largest measure identified. The contribution is estimated at 2.08 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2008. The reporting and accounting guidelines under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto agreement demand a transparent, compliant and representative estimation of the changes carbon stocks in Irish forests. These estimates are subject to a high degree of spatial and temporal uncertainty. The scientific background and reporting procedures are being developed in the programme under the CARBWARE , CARBiFOR II , FORESTSOILC and WOODCARB projects.
A new set of modelled climate predictions for Ireland have been downscaled in a regional climate model (RCM) and tested by the Community Climate Change Consortium for Ireland (C4I). The RCM predictions provide more detail on the likely changes in Ireland's climate throughout this century.
The change in Ireland's climate in terms of warmth and climatic droughtiness, which are both important for tree growth and survival, has been predicted from C4I data. The spatial and temporal changes in the mean climate indicate increasing warmth and droughtiness in the south and east of Ireland. The decadal frequency of extreme climatic events will increase. Drought frequency is predicted to increase to 3-4 droughts per decade over large parts of central and southern Ireland by 2050, increasing to more than 7 droughts per decade towards the end of the century.
Given the rapid change in the predicted climate in Ireland over the next century and the relatively long periods between establishment and final harvest, it is likely that some species may not be suited to the future climate within one or two rotation cycles. Clearly, the suitability of currently used forest species under the future climate and consequent changes in growth and ecology of forests and their pests and diseases requires consideration now. The aim of the CLIMADAPT project is to develop a GIS decision support system for species selection and productivity based on the current climate, site attributes and soil types. These productivity models will be further developed to assess the sustainability of current forest species and suggest the introduction of new species or management strategies under future climate change scenarios. The sequestration potential of forests under future climate change scenarios will also be investigated and incorporated into the CARBWARE model.
Potential benefits and outcomes from this programme include:
Projects in this programme are:
CARBIFOR II: Carbon sequestration by Irish forest ecosystems
CARBWARE: Development of tools and systems for reporting on forest carbon stocks and stock change under the Kyoto protocol and the UNFCCC
CLIMADAPT: The use of Ecological Site Classification in adapting forests and their management to climate change
FORESTSOILC: Soil carbon stock changes and greenhouse gas fluxes in Irish forests
WOODCARB: Carbon stocks and stock changes in harvested wood products