The relationships between forests and climate change are complex and multidimensional. Deforestation and forest degradation are now recognised to be a globally significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, and it is asserted that reduction of forest-based emissions may be among the least expensive mitigation options. However, decades of unsuccessful efforts to reverse high rates of deforestation and degradation in the tropics have revealed the fundamental failures of markets, governance and policy that drive forest loss. New initiatives toward ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ (REDD) will face similar challenges, but could bring to bear new sources of finance and political will. Forests are also vulnerable to the direct impacts of climate change. Warming temperatures, increased variability of rainfall patterns and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events will all affect the ability of forests to continue providing goods and services to local communities and to society at large. Because healthy forests are more resilient to climate change, sustainable forest management must be given more emphasis in national adaptation strategies. Forest-related mitigation and adaptation strategies are also inter-linked: the permanence of carbon currently stored in forests is at risk from climate change, with some models predicting significant loss of forests due to climate change impacts. Improved forest management in the interest of climate change mitigation and adaptation offers significant potential for co-benefits. The wealth of biodiversity harboured by tropical forests currently being eroded by deforestation and forest degradation can be conserved through management strategies that include biodiversity as well as carbon storage and adaptation objectives. While there will certainly be trade-offs between efficiency and equity, REDD initiatives provide a potential new source of income for rural communities. Finally, the newly-felt urgency of harnessing forests for climate change mitigation and adaptation could accelerate long-overdue reforms in the institutions and governance mechanisms necessary for sustainable forest management.

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