17 marzo 2010

A Warning on Europe’s Forests

visto en nytimes.com

Europe’s forests have been expanding for the last 60 years. But the rate at which forests are growing in Europe is slowing, and forested areas face even more acute challenges in the future because of climate change, Janez Potocnik, the E.U. commissioner for the environment, warned today.
“Europe’s forests are a precious resource,” he said at a news conference at E.U. headquarters in Brussels. “Their wide range of social, economic and environmental functions means that the stakes are high.”
Mr. Potocnik’s comments came as he issued a new discussion paper on how the E.U. could prepare for the effect of climate change on forests.
Forest and wooded areas cover more than 40 percent of the European Union and account for 5 percent of the world’s forests. They also represent an important so-called sink for absorbing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, removing about 0.5 gigatons of CO2 each year compared with total annual emissions of greenhouse gases from industries across the bloc’s 27 members equivalent to 5 gigatons of CO2.
Mr. Potocnik said the state of Europe’s forests was considerably healthier than in other parts of the world, where deforestation was under way and contributing to 12 to 15 percent of global CO2 emissions. But he said that a host of demands were placing new pressures on forested lands in Europe, meaning that Europe’s forests could become a source, rather than a sink, for CO2 emissions by 2020, according to the discussion paper.
Those demands included increasing need for pasture to meet food needs, use of croplands to produce biofuels and conversion of land for urban development, Mr. Potocnik said. In the future, there will also be more demand for forest products from the renewable energy industry for biomass products to burn for heat and electricity.
To meet the E.U.’s binding target of generating 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, the largest contribution probably will come from biomass in agriculture, forestry and waste for heat and power generation as well as for transport fuels.
That makes it important to create a suitably structured bio-energy market, which “could have a significant fire prevention role by giving an economic incentive to remove biomass that currently feeds wildfires in abandoned forests,” according to the discussion paper.
But potentially the greatest threat to forests was from climate change, which Mr. Potocnik said had already driven up average temperatures in Europe by 1 degree Celsius in the past century and threatens to unleash deadly pests, set off more forest fires and destructive storms and alter the suitability of entire regions for certain types of forest.

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