Threats to forests
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges currently facing humankind. Increased severity and occurrence of natural disasters, changing weather patterns, polar ice melt, sea level rise and drought are just some of the consequences already experienced by populations around the world.
While forests can help to combat climate change, they are also highly vulnerable to changing climatic conditions.
The climate at a given location determines the type of forest that can become established. When climate conditions change, forests must adapt. However, the adaptation process usually requires more time than the changing climate conditions allow. This often results in a loss of forests, their biodiversity, and their ability to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Deforestation can result in serious negative impacts for forest biodiversity. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that 13 million hectares of forest are lost each year to deforestation. While it would take 1000 years for some tropical forests to recreate their biodiversity, others have been irreversibly damaged, as species become extinct after the destruction of their habitat.
Agriculture is generally acknowledged as the main driver of deforestation, as forests are cleared to make space for crops or cattle farms. In comparison, only a small proportion of global deforestation is caused directly from the forest sector through the establishment of plantations and overexploitation of timber.
Certification and the PEFC label on a product creates additional demand for forest products by building consumer trust in them, which ultimately increases the value of forests. Creating additional value and demand for forest products is one of the best ways to keep forests standing, as it prevents them from being cleared for alternative land uses such as agriculture.
Natural disasters and disturbances
Natural disturbances are interacting with climate change to further increase forest degradation.
Climate change is enabling invasive plant and insect species to gain advantage over native species. Until now, winter freezes have limited most forest pests, but rising temperatures will increase their negative impacts on forests. While destructive insects take advantage of forests weakened by drought, invasive plant species will be able to increase and spread due to their tolerance of harsh conditions.
Fire is a natural part of forest ecosystems and several species of trees have found ways to protect their seeds from it. However, with increasing temperatures favouring more intense wildfires, many forests will not be able to recover. Besides fire, flooding and hurricane-force winds have intensified and have been responsible for forest degradation.
Sustainable forest management can contribute towards strengthening the resilience of forests, enabling them to adapt to climate change impacts as well as natural disasters and disturbances. PEFC-certified forests are managed in compliance with international requirements and regularly monitored by third party, independent auditors. This ensures that forest management activities keep the forests healthy and do not lead to forest degradation, a common pre-condition of forests then converted for alternative land use.