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Forest and climate

The fact that forests affect, and are affected by, climate change is beyond question: this topic is covered in detail in Roshydromet’s Second assessment report of climate change and the implications for the Russian Federation, as well as in the Fifth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change, vol. 2. Climate Change 2014, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. However, this interaction is not that simple, and a good deal of speculation tends to grow around, which needs to be separated from the scientific vision. Particularly important is to do so in the context of large-scale decisions, for example, those related to the development of rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and corresponding national measures.

There are a few issues that are well-described in scientific papers and reports, yet still arouse questions on the part of the broad audience, who may have some misperceptions regarding the impact provided by forests on the climate change. Do the processes observed in forests always lead to the withdrawal (absorption or sink) of СО2 from the atmosphere? How important are Russian forests for the global СО2 balance and for the anthropogenic impact thereon? Are they an important source of oxygen for the whole planet? What does it mean — ‘maximum possible account of the absorbing capacity of forests’, as stipulated by Russia as a requirement for its compliance with the new climate agreement? Can the planet be ‘saved’ through afforestation? What needs to be done?

Russian, or even global, forests are unlikely to be a ‘panacea’ for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, while the problem of shortage or reduction of oxygen sources is not existent in principle. In terms of global СО2 balance, Russia’s primary goal is not to increase carbon dioxide sinks (which is unrealistic), but to the largest possible degree to maintain the current level of absorption (nearly 600 million tСО2 per year), which amounts to just 1.2% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, yet offsets more than 20% of current emissions from all economic sectors in the country.

‘Maximum possible account of the absorbing capacity of forests’ in the new climate agreement is obviously very important, but should not be determined by money-focused considerations: high value forests should be preserved as a unique nature object. Therefore, combating climate change is, in fact, identical to the conservation of high value forests and sustainable forest management.