Future for Forests?

Germany’s forests are under threat like never before. This year, we have already lost thousands of acres of forest to a combination of heat, drought, storms, forest fires, beetle plagues and a fungi blight. Radical action is required to prevent forest collapse.

Forest mortality has doubled in Europe from 1984 to 20161, and is now increasing even more. In Germany within the first half of 2019 alone an area the size of more than 200,000 football fields have died, almost 2% of German forests. Some owners lost up to 50% of their domain with a total cost of more than €600M23.

As CO2 emissions keep increasing and the Earth gets warmer many climatic changes are occurring in Germany: hot and dry summers, droughts, winter storms… If it’s not through fire, the extreme heat and lack of water weakens trees and, if it doesn’t kill them, leaves them at the mercy of parasites such as the bark beetle that will give the Coup de grâce, the death blow.

Forests are a vital part of our lives and of the Earth, covering around 30% of its surface. They form groundwater, give us wood, filter the air, reduce CO2 and the temperature and offer space for species conservation and human relaxation. The dying of forests have dramatic consequences, one of them being a feedback with the Carbon Cycle. When trees die or burn they cease to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and also release the CO2 they have captured over the years therefore reinforcing Climate Changes and accelerating further the dying of forests4.

Under a 2°C global warming, which we are likely to reach by 2050, forest fire will increase by up to 75%, average drought length will increase by 4 months and the frequency of warm extreme over land will rise by 290%5! German forests of the near future will be nothing like today. Trees like spruce, beech, ash, Norway maple and sycamore are the most threatened and will likely be replaced by more southern tree species, more adapted to arid conditions, in the best case. In the worst case the changes will be too fast for forests to adapt leading to their collapse. It is therefore essential for the future that we protect, and regenerate, our forests. Major countries like China and India are taking such actions and are now leading the world in greening and forest regeneration, the new vegetation in China and India since 2000 represents a total area the size of the Amazon rainforest6. Through actions we can avoid a grim future for German fairytale’s forests, a Waldsterben 2.0.

References

  1. Senf et al., 2018, Canopy mortality has doubled in Europe’s temperate forests over the last three decades, Nature Communications 9:4978. ↩︎

  2. Johnson, 20 Jul 2019, Germany’s forests on the verge of collapse, experts report, Deutsche Welle. ↩︎

  3. Connolly, 7 Aug 2019, ‘Part of German soul’ under threat as forests die, The Guardian, London, United Kingdom. ↩︎

  4. Allen et al., 2010, A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals emerging climate change risks for forests, Forest Ecology and Management 259(4):660-684. ↩︎

  5. IPCC Special Report, 2019, A Global Warming of 1.5°C, IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland. ↩︎

  6. Dunne, 12 Feb 2019, One-third of world’s new vegetation in China and India, satellite data shows, Carbon Brief. ↩︎