Long-term impact of climate change to forest plantations and natural forests

Climate change is driven by rapidly increasing man-made greenhouse gases (GHG) and aerosol emissions caused by increase in human population and industrialization, land use change (deforestation, agriculture, urbanization) and all together over-exploitation of earth’s biocapacity.

Climate change will impact the regional growth conditions of forests, which, in turn, will affect plantation growth prospects (mean annual increment, MAI), and increase risk of pest and disease, along with forest fires.

The climate change impacts wood availability through: Temperature changes, annual precipitation, longer growing season, shorter winters, CO2 fertilization, extreme weather events, potential droughts, wildfire risk, forest pests and diseases, invasive plants, changes in suitable habitat. The climate change will have significant impact on forestry globally. The impact varies significantly across different regions leading to a positive impact on some regions and negative for some.

Long-term impact to tree growth rates

Based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4t (AR4) and 5th (AR5) Assessment Reports and the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP 6.0) the climate conditions in the main plantation areas globally will lead to higher temperatures but having a limited effect on the precipitation on these areas. The impact for northern atmosphere is still estimated to be positive, however the positive impact of changing climate is expected to slow down in the future.

Main founding in the modelling of long-term growth rate is that the climate change itself will have limited impact on the main plantations areas to growth rates, but it may have severe impacts on regional frontier level where for example drought will impact the growth rate significantly.

Pests and diseases risk increase in the future

Broadly speaking there is two categories pest introduction: tree pests that are native and those that have been accidentally introduced to new areas. Introduction of new pests into new environments is often accidental through increasing movement of people and products carrying and releasing new pests to new territories. As an example, Eucalyptus insect pests have undergone a dramatic increase in numbers since 1970, where prior to this there was a new insect species every 6.3 years for 100 years, and after 1970 there has been one insect pest every 1.4 Years. The most dramatic impact occurs when trees are not in their natural ecosystems and do not have mechanisms to cope with new pests. Yet climate change also impacts the pests and diseases habitant environment and the shorter and less harsh winters in northern atmosphere makes boreal forest vulnerable to these as well.

Impact on plantation strategy

Based on our assessment the changes caused by climate change will make a shift in breeding strategy and site development. The focus of future plantation strategies will be in pest and disease control, wild fire control and adjustment to climate conditions. There is a possibility that the significant changes we have seen in the tree growth rates per hectare is changing towards trying to maintain current growth rates.  A solid wood supply plan from 2 to 3 rotation onwards is the key for sustainable plantation forest management.

Additionally, there is a possibility that carbon sinks of the forest will be harnessed to fight the climate change through political actions, which can have significant regional impacts on wood availability for industrial use.

So, it is important make sure that there is solid understanding the future climate conditions and growth expectations and a strategy to fight against/utilize changes in climate. Additionally, the knowledge of the potential impacts on the forest industry’s competitive landscape should be found useful in long term strategy planning.

If you would have more questions regarding this topic, please feel free to contact our experts at Vision Hunters.