Global — According to a recent United Nations report, forested areas in Europe, North America, the Caucasus, and Central Asia have grown steadily over the past two decades. While tropical areas have steadily lost their forests to excessive logging and increased agriculture, northern areas have seen increases caused by conservation efforts. However, the long-term health and stability of northern forest lands may be imperiled by the effects of climate change.
The UN says that forests in these areas have grown by 25 million hectares in the last 20 years. “In addition to forest area, the volume of wood in pan-European forests is growing by over 430 million cubic metres every year due to the expansion of the forest area and increases in stock levels,” the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said on World Forest Day, as experts gathered in Geneva to review trends in forests and forest resources in Europe and North America.
These forests play a great role in the world’s carbon cycle, acting as a repository for carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas. Northern forests account for about 40 percent of the world’s forest according to the UNECE. They are generally classified as boreal or temperate. The 25 million hectares which these forests have increased is slightly larger than all of the United Kingdom, and accounts for 8 percent of all the forest in the region. Most of the increase has occurred on the Eurasian continent; North America accounts for only a fifth of the growth.
UN Researchers warn that increasing climate variability can have negative consequences on the forest gains seen in recent years. For example, North American forests have been troubled by outbreaks of the mountain pine beetle which are linked to warmer winters. Since the 1990’s, these insects have devastated over 11 million hectares. Damage can also occur from weather such as heavy winds, storms, and snow. Climatologists have linked an increasing rate of extreme weather events to increased climate variability.
The World Future Council, an international research organization that provides leaders with effective policy solutions, has sponsored the International Policy Award for Visionary Forest Policies. They have nominated 19 forest policies from 16 countries. Winners of the award will be announce on September 21 at the UN Headquarters in New York City.