BOREAL FORESTS: “Reversing land degradation can provide over one-third of the climate mitigation required by 2030 to remain below 2°C increase in average global temperatures,” wrote Catherine Benson Wahlen, International Institute for Sustainable Development

Note to Reader:

Catherine Benson Wahlen is the Thematic Expert for Human Development, Human Settlements and Sustainable Development, with the International Institute for Sustainable Development. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and a Master of Environmental Science from Yale University. She specializes in environmental governance, marine conservation, organizational strategies, and monitoring and evaluation.

Catherine Benson Wahlen has worked with the World Resources Institute and the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment in Uganda and as a consultant to the World Bank, USAID, UN agencies and the private sector. She has done fieldwork and research in American Samoa, Cambodia, Kenya, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Switzerland, and Uganda.

Snow covered spruce trees in the boreal forest of Fairbanks, Alaska.

UNECE, FAO Promote Forest Restoration and Cooperation on Boreal Forests

“During the Fifth European Forest Week and Forêt2019, country representatives came together to discuss forest restoration and cooperation on boreal forests,” wrote Catherine Benson Wahlen. “Country representatives from the Caucasus and Central Asia agreed on a regional greening strategy focused on landscape restoration and greening infrastructure. According to the UNECE, this region’s ecosystems and landscapes have suffered from excessive extraction and waste of water, deforestation and pollution from mining, resulting in desertification, land erosion and soil loss.

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Boreal Forests and Climate Change Mitigation

The boreal forest that circles the globe doesn’t make it to the news as often as the Amazon rainforest. However, it contains a third of all the trees on earth and in combination with its soil forms the largest storage of CO2, while refreshing the entire planet’s atmosphere with the oxygen it produces.

Boreal forests are therefore a crucial ally, if countries are to mitigate climate change and meet the goal of maintaining the projected global temperature increase to below 2°C. However, in recent years boreal forests have come under attack. While boreal forests are largely untouched by direct human influence, they have been dramatically affected by anthropogenic climate change.

Rising temperatures warm up the boreal forests’ permafrost soil, thus threatening to release the CO2 it had previously stored. Moreover, warmer temperatures can enable insects to thrive leading to beetle infestations.

Finally, heatwave-related fires have drastically diminished the boreal forests’ size. Once the forests’ peat and turf soils are burning, it is impossible to control the fire as it spreads underneath the forest soil.  Ironically, our boreal allies in the fight against climate change are destroyed by the effects of the very development they are meant to mitigate.

In light of the challenges and opportunities linked to boreal forests, ministers from the circumboreal countries, Canada, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation and the United States of America, signed the Haparanda Ministerial Declaration on Circumboreal Cooperation on Forests in June 2018. In the declaration countries vowed to increase research cooperation and knowledge-sharing on boreal forests.