BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Forests, trees and vegetation not only depend on rainfall but also play a critical role generating it in their local environment and in more distant locations, acting as a driving force for climate regulation.
This was the conclusion made at a recent discussion forum at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, where a diverse panel of speakers discussed the concept of “rainfall recycling.”
A recent review article titled Trees, forests and water: Cool insights for a hot world, demonstrated that forest, water and energy interactions provide a foundation for carbon storage, cooling terrestrial surfaces and distributing water resources. Forests and trees must therefore be recognized as important regulators within water, energy and carbon cycles, the article argued.
Following the release of the research paper, as well as a subsequent two-day virtual symposium on the topic, the GLF discussion on “Rainfall Recycling as a Landscape Function: Connecting SDGs 6, 13 and 15″ urged a paradigm shift – a move away from the current discourse about forests and climate change that focuses on sequestering and storing carbon.
The session instead described the role of forests and trees in the water cycle, showing new ways for forests and land management to influence the climate through atmospheric water cycle controls, and making connections to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – in particular, those on clean water and sanitation, climate action and sustaining life on land.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?
David Ellison, lead author of the research paper, gave the example of precipitation in the Blue Nile Basin originating from West African rainforests – an area which is seeing an increasing amount of deforestation.
“If deforestation continues on its current track, we could lose as much as 25 percent of the rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands,” he said.
“Forest-based ecosystems provide an ecosystem service that extends well beyond their ability to produce biomass – carbon sequestration – and this role must be nurtured,” he added, noting that the scale of the water cycle was also of importance.
Given that trees and forests are often seen as consuming water, through a process called evapotranspiration, Ellison questioned whether, when looking at the recycling effects, this should be called “consumption” or “production” of water resources.
POSSIBLE POLICY IMPACTS
The panelists also considered the implications of these insights on climate, land and water policies and actions.
Daniel Murdiyarso, senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) explained that recent data suggest deforestation is slowing and the number plantations are increasing, leading him to question what will happen with water.
“We need to find a new way of governing forests,” he said. “This has policy implications in terms of forests for water, or forests for climate, at the watershed level.”
“There are a lot of issues that are local, or national at the most,” Murdiyarso said, noting that carbon and climate agendas are often global.
Although this could be seen as a contradiction, the two sides can also complement one other. “In terms of the SDGs, this is […] globally relevant,” Murdiyarso explained, before adding that implementation on the ground is what matters.
WHAT CAN AND SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?
During the forum delegates pointed out that much of the research being discussed had been known about for many years, and that bridging scientific knowledge and application was in fact the current and most pressing need.
The forum aimed to sketch a new agenda on water, land and climate to promote coordinated science-to-policy linkages, from cross-cutting policy integration to implementation on the ground, and to trigger interest for institutional and donor support for an otherwise sidelined topic.
A global scientific assessment looking at the interactions between forests and water, now being conducted by the Global Forests Expert Panel (GFEP) on Forests and Water, is expected to be presented mid-year. Findings are aimed at informing the U.N. High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which is tasked with reviewing the implementation of the SDGs.
Vincent Gitz, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), in closing the discussions in Bonn stated that “this is not new science per se, but it is science that is being refined.”
“Another question we can ask is, who can do what with this knowledge?” he said, referring to optimizing the contribution of forests and trees to the regulation of the water cycle. “We are waiting on the GFEP report to help us understand how the different institutions can embark on all of this science, and all the ramifications.”
Gitz added after the session that in light of the role of science and research to provide “early warnings” on preliminary findings – either because of new threats or new opportunities – the research could inform both policy and implementation.
It is expected that the findings and discussions will pave the way toward a more integrated approach to land, water and climate for the SDGs, and that moving forward, this body of research will continue to grow.
This story was originally published on Forests News.
Forests regulate rain as cyclical cooling landscape function