Forests face fiery future, warn UK’s Met Office

Climate change is putting further pressure on forests, with less rain and increased drought leading to increased risk from fire, the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre has warned.

Deforestation is already a major cause of carbon emissions, it warns, and is currently estimated to exceed those from the global transport sector.

Hadley Centre scientists attending the UN climate conference in Poznan claimed that new estimates of future deforestation in critical regions, such as the Amazon, were much larger than those used by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With no controls on deforestation, the area of forest lost could be five times greater than outlined in the IPCC’s Special Report Emissions Scenarios (SRES).

The researchers warned that even with effective governance the loss could be double.

Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate advice at the Met Office, said: “In addition to man-made deforestation, climate change may cause the ‘die-back’ of the Amazonian forest.

“However, deliberate deforestation in Amazonia is likely to have a bigger impact in the short term.”

Climate scientists are assessing the potential impacts of ongoing deforestation on climate change and the extent to which reducing deforestation could contribute to stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations.

By avoiding deforestation during the early part of this century, carbon emissions would be reduced by up to 27 gigatonnes by 2050.

In a double benefit, preservation of the forest would maintain a carbon sink from carbon dioxide fertilisation of photosynthesis, which is worth a further four gigatonnes by 2050.

Climate change is also expected to put further pressure on forests, the UK researchers warn.

They said that in previous droughts, such as 2005, fires used for forest clearance became uncontrolled and larger areas were burnt through this “fire leakage”.

Climate change is also likely to reduce rainfall in the region.

The researchers suggest that even if this does not directly damage plants, it is likely to increase the risk of fire leakage which would magnify the impact of deforestation.

Source: UK Met Office press release

Date: 10/12/2008

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