Forests and adaptation

How do forests relate to adaptation?
The linkages between forests and adaptation are two-fold (Locatelli et al. 2010). First, as climate change will affect forests, adaptation measures are needed for forests to reduce negative impacts and maintain ecosystem functions (adaptation for forests). Second, forest ecosystems contribute to adaptation by providing local ecosystem services that reduce the vulnerability of local communities and the broader society to climate change (forests for people‘s adaptation).

What is vulnerability?
Vulnerability is a central concept to adaptation. Vulnerability to climate change is the “degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes” (IPCC 2001). Vulnerability is a function of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. High exposure or sensitivity and low adaptive capacity causes high vulnerability.


What is ecosystem-based adaptation?
Despite its name, ‘ecosystem-based adaptation’ (EbA) is a human-centred approach to adaptation. It aims at reducing human vulnerabilities through the provision of ecosystem services. It is increasingly recognised that well-managed ecosystems can help societies to adapt to both current climate hazards and future climate change by providing a wide range of ecosystem services, for examples mangroves protecting coastal areas against storms and waves, forests providing products used as safety nets by local communities when agriculture is affected by climate, or forests regulating water quality and river flows. For EbA, it is necessary to understand the coupled vulnerabilities of people and ecosystems and to look at ecosystems in their broader context.

Ecosystem-based adaptation: ExamplesSoil conservation and hydroelectricity in Central America

  • Increasing rainfall intensity and soil erosion.
  • Increasing sedimentation in hydroelectric dams.
  • Upstream soil conservation: Part of adaptation.

Forests and local people in Central Africa

  • Climate events affect local livelihoods.
  • Some forest products, less sensitive than agriculture, are used as safety nets.
  • Better forest management: Part of adaptation.

Mangroves and coastal areas in Southeast Asia

  • Coast vulnerability (storms, waves, sea level rise).
  • Protective role of mangrove + provision of goods.
  • Better mangrove management: Part of adaptation.


Should we pursue ‘forests for adaptation’ and ‘adaptation for forests’ together?
Ideally, yes. ‘Forests for adaptation’ is relevant in most places, especially where people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods. But integrating adaptation into forest management requires forests to be managed or conserved, which is not the case everywhere. For ensuring that forests provide relevant ecosystem services for the society (forests for adaptation), a sustainable management must first be achieved. When immediate pressures on forests (e.g. deforestation for land conversion) are addressed, a longer term perspective and climate change can be considered (adaptation for forests).


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Locatelli, B., Brockhaus, M., Buck, A. and Thompson, I. 2010. Forests and adaptation to climate change: challenges and opportunities. In: Forest and society: responding to global drivers of change, Mery, G. et al. (eds), 21-42. IUFRO World Series vol. 25. IUFRO, Finland.