Research is essential to provide robust evidence of forestry and woodlands’ contribution to underpin strategies for meeting Government objectives on climate change. The Read report 'Combating Climate Change - a role for UK forests' identifies a number of areas where more research is required. The Climate Change Act (2008), which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the separate Climate Change Scotland Act (2009), commit countries in the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The Government’s Low Carbon Transition Plan published in summer 2009 highlights the important role that forests have to play.
Trees and forests help to tackle, and allow society to adapt to, climate change in different ways. Trees absorb atmospheric carbon as they grow and store it in woodland ecosystems and in low embedded energy timber and wood products after sustainable harvesting. Using wood for fuel and in industrial and consumer products avoids greenhouse gas emissions generated through the use of fossil fuels. Trees and woodlands also help people to adapt to a changing climate, for example by providing shade and protecting us against flooding. However, to develop mitigation and adaptation policies we must continue to develop our understanding of how forest and woodland ecosystems function in a changing physical environment. We also need to know more about what affects the resilience of forests and woodlands to changes in their environment. Climate change is a rapidly developing area of forest research and we need to take stock regularly of our understanding and to review where there are gaps in our knowledge.
The Forestry Commission has identified six priority actions for its work on climate change. Our research activity will play an essential part in helping us to progress these, including how we manage our woodlands in future. The priorities are to:
- protect and manage what we already have;
- reduce deforestation;
- restore the world’s forest cover;
- use wood for energy;
- replace other materials with wood;
- plan to adapt to our changing climate.
We will fund major programmes on the potential of forestry and woodlands to mitigate climate change and to understand how trees and woodlands can help us adapt to its impacts. It will be vital to explore further the effects of pests and pathogens on trees as our climate changes, and to understand how trees can improve living and working environments in urban areas.
We also need to deepen our understanding of the social and economic perspectives of forestry and woodlands and climate change. This will be a critical step in providing the breadth of evidence that policy-makers and managers require. We will also exploit opportunities to develop our research portfolio in partnership with other research institutes and universities. We intend that our research projects on climate change will underpin policies and management strategies across the UK, and demonstrate at an international level the unique contribution that trees and woodlands can make to addressing the greatest challenge facing us in the 21st century.
Links to the climate change research programmes and the Read report on combating climate change are listed below.