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Forest resilience—“the ability of forest ecosystems to return to a pre-condition state following a disturbance, including maintaining its essential composition, structures, functions and process rates”—is fundamental to the well-being of the people, economies, and ecosystems that depend on and are inextricably linked to forests.
Forests provide a critical carbon sink, absorbing nearly a third of fossil fuel emissions, with the potential to absorb even more. Unfortunately, forest resilience is challenged on many fronts: deforestation, degradation, fires, population growth, shifting consumption patterns, illegal logging, and climate change.
Recent findings underscore the threats forests face and the implications of those threats for people and the planet: tropical forests may be a net source of carbon emissions due to forest degradation reducing carbon in standing forests. In 2016, global tree cover loss reached a record 29.7 million hectares, a 51 percent increase from 2015. Forest and landscape degradation carry a heavy price tag, costing about 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in Burundi, 2.5 percent of GDP in India, and 5–10 percent of GDP in Ghana.
The impact on the poor is especially pronounced. PROFOR’s research in the Philippines reveals that certain rural communities derive 7 percent of their annual cash income from selling forest resources, and are heavily dependent on forest ecosystem services like water regulation and erosion control.
Maintaining and rebuilding forests’ resilience is increasingly a priority for governments and the planet. PROFOR knowledge is helping to identify policies and practices that protect pristine forests, restore degraded forests, and promote the sustainable management of productive forests.
The World Bank Group’s Forest Action Plan FY16–20 sets out how forests contribute to the World Bank Group goals of reducing poverty and increasing shared prosperity in a sustainable manner. The FAP identifies forests’ role in bolstering resilience for ecosystems and rural economies and communities. In particular, the FAP highlights the importance of maintaining or restoring forest health to provide safety nets for vulnerable local communities and to build resilience to climate shocks.
In 2017, PROFOR’s analytical work and programs in support of FAP implementation contributed to a better understanding of forest resilience and innovative approaches and tools to help understand the risks at hand, manage complex trade-offs, enable forest restoration, and strengthen forest governance. PROFOR knowledge helped governments to develop integrated landscape programs, identify forest-smart solutions, and advance Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) programs.
This report provides more examples of how PROFOR is contributing to knowledge for resilient communities,ecosystems, and economies, and helping to equip governments to address the major challenges ahead.
Last Updated : 04-08-2019
It’s well understood that forests are worth more than the sum of their trees. As an ecosystem, forests provide an astonishing array of benefits, from the more obvious ones like timber, fruits and nuts, to the intangible ones like maintaining reliable flows of clean water. But how much are these benefits actually worth? And are forests really so much better at providing these services than, say, human-engineered technology?
According to a new study in the Philippines, reforestation and forest rehabilitation may truly be the most cost-effective option for producing valuable ecosystem services that many people depend on – especially given the uncertainties brought on by climate change.
With funding from the Program on Forests (PROFOR) and technical support from the World Bank, the Government of the Philippines studied three different areas to assess the value of certain “invisible” forest-derived benefits. The research found that healthy forests help reduce risks to climate variability by providing high-quality ecosystem services that contribute to more resilient communities.
For instance, the study showed that in the Upper Marikina River Basin – a degraded watershed upstream from Manila, where most inhabitants live below the poverty line - higher forest cover results in 149 to 167 percent higher water yields during the driest months of the year, ensuring a more reliable water supply during times of scarcity. Meanwhile, during the wettest months, forests can reduce the volume of floodwater in the watershed by 27 to 47 percent. Forests also stabilize hillsides and mountainsides in the region by decreasing the risk of soil erosion by 68 to 99 percent per hectare – helping reduce the impacts of natural hazards like flooding and landslides.
“These services are worth billions of pesos,” emphasized Eugene Soyosa, Economist at the Philippines Forest Management Bureau. “Maintaining forests has a much lower cost than if you would build check dams or other erosion control measures.”
Crucially from a sustainable development perspective, forest ecosystem services are integral to the well-being of poor communities in the Philippines. According to the findings at one pilot site, people obtain about 7 percent of their annual cash income from selling forest resources like bamboo, charcoal, fish, and bush meat.
“Poor households are very dependent on forests, especially for water provisioning services” said Maurice Andres Rawlins, Natural Resource Management Specialist at the World Bank and a lead author of the study. “If these services were lost and people had to pay for them, it could certainly set back poverty reduction gains.”
“In the pilot site of Upper Marikina, forests have been degraded for charcoal-making and the water supply is decreasing; at other sites, the siltation is very pronounced,” explained Soyosa. “When we first talked to communities, they perceive the idea of ecosystem services as too technical. But as the conversation moves on, it turns out that they know a lot about these benefits, and are being heavily impacted by the loss.”
Forest ecosystem services become more important as the impacts of climate change intensify. The Philippines - being an archipelagic country that is naturally vulnerable to typhoons, earthquakes and storm surges– also ranks among the top 5 countries most affected by climate change. According to projections, all areas of the Philippines will get warmer, contributing to more frequent extreme weather events. Dry seasons will become drier, and wet seasons wetter. This study confirms that forests provide services that make communities more resilient to climate change shocks, including acting as a safety net against poverty.
The Government of the Philippines is already trying to reverse trends of severe deforestation and forest degradation across the country, and has been working on the valuation of ecosystem services with help from the World Bank-led Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) Global Partnership. This work is motivated by the recognition that documenting economic values of forest resources can help make forest investments more attractive, and thus improve the livelihoods of poor upland communities.
“The Philippines is committed to regreening,” said Rawlins. “They don’t want to just plant forests where there are none, but to undertake more strategic thinking about which areas to prioritize, and what kind of trees to plant. That’s where measuring specific ecosystem services results is so important. The question now is, ‘How do we mainstream these processes into planning?’ The ability of the government to include this work in their regular processes is the true sign of success.”
Findings of the study are intended to guide the Philippines’ National Greening Program by including forest ecosystem services into land use planning processes. Results have also shaped the indicators in the country’s Forest Investment Road Map (FIRM), which is the government’s strategy for accelerating sustainable economic growth in the wood industry through private sector investment. The FIRM, in turn, is consistent with the Philippines Master Plan for Climate Change-Resilient Forestry Development, which aims to promote the development of forest plantations and increase the participation of the private sector, local government units, and organized upland communities.
“In the Philippines we have not yet established a national database on forest ecosystem services in terms of inputs into policies and programs,” said Larlyn Faith Aggabao, Senior Forest Management Specialist at the Forest Management Bureau. “This study is a useful start to institutionalizing and formulating a coordinated effort among different agencies for data collection, data sharing, and analysis. This information would provide significant inputs to forestry plans because there are trade-offs to any policy, and these need to be managed.”
(Photo credit: Gordon Bernard Ramos Ignacio)
Last Updated : 05-31-2018
Due to climate change, the dry-season length has increased over southern Amazonia since 1979, resulting in a prolonged fire season. Major droughts in 2005 and 2010 significantly damaged the southern portion of the Amazon forest in Brazil and elevated fire-induced tree mortality in as much as 12% of the southeastern Amazon forests. These results suggest that feedbacks between fires and extreme climatic conditions could increase the likelihood of an Amazon forest “dieback” in the near-term. In addition, a recent study of human impacts on the integrity of the Amazon forest reported that a combination of selective logging and wildfires turns primary forests into a thick scrub full of smaller trees and vines, which not only stores 40% less carbon than undisturbed forests, but is also more susceptible to fires from adjacent farms and pasturelands than pristine forest. Forests are also under threat from the conversion to agriculture, particularly at the Cerrado margin, which has seen the largest expansion of medium and large farms, often linked to dynamic external markets.
The development objective of this proposal is to provide guidance to key local and national stakeholders on the design of policies and measures with the aim of maintaining the resilience of the southern Amazon forest in the face of climate change, increasing forest degradation, fire risks and associated greenhouse gas emissions, and increased global demand for agricultural commodities.
In the short-term, this activity will improve stakeholders involved in policy-making and implementation understanding of the dynamics between forests, agriculture and climate change, and resulting forest degradation and fire risks in a fragile frontier by key. In the medium term, it is expected to feed into the policy cycle by (i) establishing a sound set of potential impacts under different scenarios; and (ii) providing the basis for informed dialogue around increasing the resilience impact of policies and measures in the land use sector under the National Climate Change Policy.
The activity is composed of three tasks:
- Modeling of climate change, fire, forest degradation, and land use change dynamics in southern Amazonia. This will build on previous modeling work conducted by the World Bank in Brazil under the Low Carbon Country Case Study (Gouvello et al. 2010), namely SimBrasil and DINAMICA. The output will consist of a report outlining potential forest resilience impacts under different scenarios. The work will focus on the near to mid-term (2020) and complement the PROFOR supported study "Turn Down the Heat" that is focusing on medium- to long-term impacts (2030–2050).
- Policy options for managing the agricultural frontier. The output will include a report with recommendations resulting from the dialogue.
- Dissemination and knowledge exchange.
The simulations of future fire regimes indicate that the Southern Amazon is on the verge of a drastic tipping point from which the extent of areas burned in drought years may even double. This happens consistently in the four scenarios modeled after 2030, with and without deforestation. In other words, a temperature rise of just ≈1° relative to the current average (2010-2015) could trigger a series of large forest fires during the most severe droughts in the region. In those years, areas burned in the Southern Amazon could extend to over 3.6 million hectares, an increase of about 110% relative to the extent of the 2007 fires. In general, there is an increase in burned forest area from 17% to 41% after 2030 compared to 2002-2010. Although the results of the three models and four scenarios analyzed diverge from each other slightly, the trend is the same.
While the results of the simulations are inconclusive for years of normal rainfall, the advance of deforestation (at current rates) implies that an additional 7-16% of land will be burned between 2011-50 relative to scenarios with climate change alone. Although forest fragmentation plays an important role in facilitating fire spread, the results show that drought is the key determinant of the fire regime. This points to a virtually catastrophic effect of droughts powered by global warming, even in a scenario of robust climate change mitigation and a sharp reduction in deforestation rates.
In terms of geographic pattern, the southern Amazon is likely to be very heavily impacted, with some variation between the southeast and southwest depending on the different scenarios. In addition, high-intensity fires during droughts will be more extensive, implying higher mortality and consequent loss of forest biomass. From being a potential carbon sink, the Amazon forest will become a net source of carbon dioxide emissions, feeding back into global warming.
These dire warnings are crucial because they relate to an ecosystem of extremely high local, regional and global consequence. At the local and regional levels, fires in the Amazon are destroying valuable ecosystem services that communities depend on. The vast majority of agricultural production in Latin America depends on rain, meaning that disruptions to these systems will have profound negative impacts on livelihoods, jobs, health and nutrition, and wellbeing more generally. At the global level, it is very alarming that the Amazon forest may soon become a net emitter of carbon dioxide, rather than a potential carbon sink, contributing to climate change and further reducing the resilience of communities and ecosystems.
The final report identifies very feasible policy actions that can mitigate these negative impacts, including:
- Investing in fire prevention and firefighting capacity;
- Incentivizing alternative agricultual practices that are not based on fire; and
- Better land use planning to align agricultural producers and aggregators.
Implementing such policies is critical to conserving forests and biodiversity, ensuring the availability of ecosystem services and keeping people out of poverty, and ultimately to achieving global targets like the World Bank twin goals, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Climate Agreement.
Last Updated : 04-24-2018