Kyoto’s global warming controls could harm forests

Conservationists have warned that the Kyoto Protocol fails to consider their concerns, and that countries could meet their commitment by replacing valuable mature forests with rapidly-growing plantations.

Not only has the effectiveness of using forests as carbon ‘sinks’ been doubted by scientists (see related story), but conservationists have spoken out against the US’s expected future tool for fighting greenhouse gases, for replacing old forests with plantations and called the tactic a “perverse incentive” of the Kyoto Protocol. An article in the current issue of Conservation Biology, warns that the protocol could easily do more harm than good unless accompanied by strong incentives to protect biodiversity.

Instead, Reed Noss President of the Society for Conservation Biology, which publishes the journal, urges countries to conserve old-growth forests as they have far more biodiversity than plantations and to put any tree plantations on marginal agricultural lands.

“During a period of climate change, intact old-growth forests are expected to show considerable ‘inertia’, meaning they will show a delayed response to climate change and maintain conditions suitable for many native species,” he told edie. “They also contain huge amounts of carbon in biomass. If they are logged, a large amount of that carbon escapes as carbon dioxide, adding to the greenhouse effect. A long time is required – perhaps hundreds of years – for plantations or other regenerating forests to accumulate the carbon stocks characteristic of primary forest. Plantations are also usually less resistant than natural forests to fire and pest outbreaks, which could increase with climate change.”

Noss suggests two ways to ensure the protection of tree biodiversity during climate change: Firstly, that connections between forests should be maintained or restored, including elevational corridors so species can move up or down mountains as necessary, as well as corridors along the Mississippi Valley and other major north-south river valleys that allowed dispersal during past climate changes.

Secondly, Noss says, climate refugia – areas that harboured species during past climate changes – should be a preservation priority, for being more likely to save flora in the future. Probable climate refugia include the southern Appalachians and the Klamath-Siskiyou region of California and Oregon; Iberia, Italy and the Balkans; and rock outcrops, cool slopes and many other small areas.

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