Forest Cover & Climate Change
by Natalia Dec
Climate change remains a widely studied, yet rarely spoken of subject. In recent years, estimates about a ‘worst-case scenario’ have been altered, showing that the consequences awaiting us have worsened exponentially. The standard worst-case scenario used by researchers—called RCP8.5—has been confirmed to have underestimated the amount of emissions which result from our current economic climate: a main driving force behind climate change.
RCP8.5 assumes uncontrolled and rapid economic growth, as well as unrestrained burning of fossil fuels. Though RCP8.5 depends on these conditions, it does not take into account any actions that attempt to slow global warming. Multiple countries have implemented strategies to fight against a worst-case scenario, and Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate Research in Norway stated, “We’ve already locked in a certain amount of climate policy”.
There is a worrying implication that future emission levels could still be drastically higher than predicted, even with the implementation of rigorous climate change programs. Carbon emissions in the EU have risen over the past four years, following a period of economic growth - in 2017, they were higher by 1.8%. Peter Christensen of the University of Illinois states, “Our estimates indicate that, due to higher than assumed economic growth rates, there is a greater than 35 per cent probability that emissions in 2100 will exceed those given by RCP8.5.”
However, not everything can be accurately calculated. Researchers state that forested areas are increasing around the world due to an improving economy and a rising sense of national wellbeing. They protest that the growth of forests is due to rising CO2 levels, instead proposing that as economies improve, farmers concentrate on high-quality soils and leave marginal lands, which are then overtaken by trees.
Between 1990 and 2015, forest growth has increased annually by 1.31% in higher-income countries, in comparison to the 0.5% growth increase in lower-income nations.
Other countries have also started to implement strategies to increase forest cover in relation to their own developments and improvements: Europe, US, Japan, and New Zealand have all seen an increase in forest cover over the past century.
"When people are feeling good, it benefits forests," concludes Professor Pekka Kauppi from the University of Helsinki to BBC News. “Once a country has a decent life, they do not deplete forests—they want to protect them. When livelihoods come from other sources, not subsistence farming, then marginal lands are abandoned and people just leave the forests to grow back."
This proves to be a hope for the worst-case scenario of climate change, even taking into consideration the RCP8.5, as reforestation and increased forest cover will ultimately lead to the betterment of a declining climate.