Forest Management and Global Change: Near-Term Decisions and Long-Term Outcomes
This workshop discussed management of forests in the context of climate change. Questions considered included: how sensitive are forests to changes in climate or atmospheric CO2? What other stresses, such as land use change, will likely influence forest health over the next century? And do present forest management strategies account for the suite of factors that will influence forest health in the coming decades? The role of forest management in carbon accounting and the UNFCC process of verification was also considered, and an alternative accounting system was proposed based upon energy per unit area, such as how albedo changes with land cover change.
Keywords: forests; ecosystems; land use change; climate variability and change; carbon cycle
Overview & Relevance:
As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises, there is increasing interest in trying to manage the biosphere in such a way as to increase the amount of carbon retained in the biosphere. There are a variety of reasons, in addition to the greenhouse effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide, for wanting to manage the amount of carbon in the biosphere. These reasons include concerns about biodiversity, the well-being of watersheds, the fertility of soils, and the long-term health of ecosystems generally. In terms of the greenhouse effect, the Kyoto Protocol suggests that, at some level, measures to increase biospheric carbon have the same benefit as measures to decrease emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning.
One important distinction between measures that reduce carbon flows from fossil fuels to the atmosphere and those that increase carbon flows from the atmosphere to the biosphere has to do with permanence. Reducing emissions from fossil fuels to the atmosphere can yield an essentially permanent decrease in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, at least up to the scale of global fossil fuel resources. Increasing flows of carbon from the atmosphere to the biosphere (or decreasing flows of carbon from the biosphere to the atmosphere) on the other hand, can be reversed on a very short time scale if, for example, the forest is subsequently burned or the soil plowed.
In fact, in the face of changing climate and increasing social pressures, there may be increasing forces that operate against protecting carbon in the biosphere or accumulating additional carbon in the biosphere over the long term, i.e. over 50 to 100 years or more. Regardless of human efforts to mitigate climate change, increasing atmospheric CO2, increasing temperature, changes in the hydrologic balance, increasing human population, changes in land use, and other environmental changes, will exert increasing stress on current forests and other carbon-rich ecosystems.
Recognizing the stresses on forests and that change is an essential feature of terrestrial ecosystems, how then should present day investments in forest protection or forest expansion, or carbon accounting under an instrument like the Kyoto Protocol, be tempered by the potential for change over the long term? What spectrum of change can be realistically expected in the long term and should near-term commitments be influenced by long-term uncertainties? How might climate mitigation policies interact with the other stressors affecting terrestrial ecosystems?
Trying to mitigate climate change through management of the biosphere may differ from reducing emissions in one other important way. Large-scale changes in the biosphere may feed back into the climate system by altering the albedo of the Earth, the hydrologic balance at the Earth’s surface, and the surface roughness. Thus these efforts to mitigate climate change may, in fact, have significant climate consequences.
Trying to make present day investments in the long-term health of ecosystems, and trying to make the Kyoto Protocol (or some successor international accord) operational and consistent with its stated objectives, thus confronts a variety of long-term questions. Few would argue that there are many benefits in the near term in trying to protect the health of present ecosystems and to minimize the rate of growth of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. How, though, should our longer-term vision play a role in our current decisions?
This AGCI workshop explored the long-term outlook for management of forests and other ecosystems and how this outlook might be incorporated in current planning and accounting. The workshop included four major elements:
1. What is the sensitivity of forests to changes in climate, including atmospheric CO2?
2. What other stresses (such as tropospheric ozone, nitrogen deposition, land-use change, and the interaction of multiple stresses) can be expected to affect the extent and health of forests over the next century?
3. How might changes in the extent and health of forests and other ecosystems feed back within the global climate system?
4. How might current investments in forest management and protection and carbon accounting under an international climate accord be influenced by our long-term vision of the inherent stresses and how are present forest management strategies and practices matched to the set of factors interacting with forests?
Our organizing question was the extent to which concerns about long-term changes in climate can motivate long-term changes in forest management that actually help mitigate climate change and insure the health and diversity of terrestrial ecosystems.
The Climate Impacts of Land Surface Change and Carbon Management, and the Implications for Climate-Change Mitigation Policy
The Influence of Land-Use Change and Landscape Dynamics on the Climate System: Relevance to Climate-Change Policy Beyond the Radiative Effect of Greenhouse Gases
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Given Colorado’s reliance on precipitation for agriculture and recreation industries, understanding natural variations as well as human-driven changes in climate patterns is a critical issue. Dr. Roger A. Pielke Sr. is the State of Colorado’s Head Climatologist, and in this lecture he draws on his vast understanding of Colorado’s climate to show past climate trends and comment on what the future climate may look like for Colorado residents. Pielke focuses in particular on the problem of drought explains how both natural processes and human behavior impact forecasts of future droughts. In his conclusion, Pielke suggests that in the absence of clear predictive capacity, we should assess future vulnerabilities, which in Colorado may include, flash floods, avalanches, insect infestations, and drought
10:00 am Discussion
12:00 pm Discussion
6:30 pm Dinner in town in Working Groups
9:30 am Discussion
11:45 am Working Groups
12:30 pm Lunch in Working Groups
2:15 pm Presentation TBD
3:00 pm Presentation TBD
3:30 pm Discussion
8:30 am Sensitivity Working Group Report
9:00 am Stresses Working Group Report
9:30 am Discussion
10:15 am Feedbacks Working Group Report
10:45 am Management Working Group Report
11:15 am Synthesis Discussion and Next Steps
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