Significant amounts of atmospheric carbon bound up through photosynthesis is stored in forests. In warm environments with high carbon dioxide content, photosynthesis and growth in plants is faster than in cool environments with low carbon dioxide content. This means that the changing climate promotes tree growth, but it also increases risks. Drought, floods and various forms of biotic forest damage may become more common in the future. In these circumstances, the role of active forestry becomes more significant.
Despite the use of forests and decreasing forest areas, forest resources in Finland have been increasing at an accelerating rate for several decades, and this trend is predicted to continue. Among other things, this increase in forest resources is attributable to previous forestry measures, draining marshland forests and possibly also to the climate change that has occurred thus far.
Today, roughly half of the annual carbon emissions generated in Finland through energy production is bound in tree stock, soil and wood products. The sector of forest and land use is currently the only mechanism for capturing and storing carbon emissions. In the future, the industrial capture and storage of emissions may become a new key mechanism for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In forestry, it is possible to anticipate climate change by choosing the right tree species from the right source
Trees have adapted to the heavy fluctuations in climate factors from one year to the next. This is why it is still best to use species from local sources in forest regeneration. The benefits of using species from southern sources in a warming climate are yet to be proven, as the autumn still means that our days continue to become shorter.
Making changes to the recommended tree species requires long-term testing of new tree species taken from new sources. Risks may be reduced by ensuring the continued genetic diversity of the forestry material. A heterogeneous forest structure reduces the risk of biotic damage.
Research for the benefit of climate policy and the business sector
Research carried out by the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) on forests and climate change is multidisciplinary and spreads across extensive global networks. Reasons for this include the connection between global and national climate policy issues and the sustainable bioeconomy of forests, as well as the ability to respond to the growing demand for raw materials.
Research by Luke covers themes such as the biological impact of the use of forest resources during the process of climate change; the impact of climate change on forest regeneration, forest cultivation and forestry; and the impact of potential new requirements and practices on the balance of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in forests.
Luke is also responsible for greenhouse gas reporting related to land use and changes in land use according to the UN convention on climate change, and for the development of reporting, including reporting in accordance to the Kyoto Protocol.
Picture on top of the page: Essi Puranen, Luke
Forests and climate change
- The vegetation period will become longer
- The forest growth yield will increase and the proportions between the forest tree species may change
- New opportunities for silvicultural utilisation of trees and wood may appear
- The growing forest tree stock absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
- The forest tree and plant phenology changes; for instance the flowering of the bird cherry and bilberry starts earlier
- The increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere initiates an earlier start of the growing period of the birches
- The timing of the autumn preparation for the dormant season and the spring budburst in the forest trees may be disrupted
- Winter survival of conifer seedlings may be disrupted
- After a mild winter the initial summer growth of Norway spruce is slower than after a harsh winter
- Foreign and invasive organisms (species) will be more frequent and their chances of survival better
- Insect damages, as for instance by the spruce bark beetle, may increase
- Fungal diseases in forest trees, such as the root rot in Norway spruce (wood) and (the annosus root rot in) Scots pine wood, may increase and spread northwards
- There will be an increased risk for storm damages in the forests