By Lizzie Wasilewska

Credit: Jaakko Paarvala

In its new guide, Climate Change Guidelines for Forest Managers, the Food and Agriculture Organization on the United Nations (FAO) discusses many ways of combating and thinking about the effects of climate change on forests. As Michelle emphasized in her recent blog entry about the SAFE Act, early efforts to prevent, rather than simply react to, the effects of climate change are crucial for the long-term health of forests. In its guide, FAO also highlights the importance of preemptively building up forests’ resistance to climate change.

The authors of the guide frame forest management strategies as globally significant, noting that forests are a key part of many ecosystems, economies and cultures. Forests act as a worldwide “carbon sink” that moderates the effects of fossil fuels, which means that forests’ deterioration can worsen the health of other ecosystems. And, with forest damage, there often comes damage to forest-dependent people as well. For example, up to five million women in West Africa earn most of their income by collecting and marketing nuts that they harvest from shea trees. The FAO guide highlights the importance of identifying and supporting communities like these, whose livelihoods would disappear if their forests disappeared.

Deforestation. Credit: Andrew Ashton

Forest managers and the public can also look in this guide for potential solutions to these issues. In order to help forest-dependent communities, the FAO suggests that forest managers encourage residents to invest in environmentally safe technologies like fuel-efficient stoves, which can lead to greater profits as well as healthier forests. They also recommend that forest managers grow more fire-resistant plants in forest ecosystems since the rate and strength of wildfires is projected to increase.

Of course, some of these things are easier said than done. As the authors of the guide say, “climate change impacts are cross-sectoral, which means that to prepare for them, coordination is needed among government agencies, NGOs and stakeholders in multiple sectors.” Luckily, if organizations like the FAO continue to publish strategies for dealing with climate change and legal measures like the SAFE Act move into action, the future of forests holds promise.