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Forests and Water Interactions in a Changing Environment

TF Forests and Water Interactions in a Changing Environment

Task Force Coordinator:

Xiaohua (Adam) Wei, Canada


Richard Harper, Australia

Shirong Liu, China

Rationale, Goals and Objectives

Forests play an integral role in the supply of clean water for a range of uses, and also have critical interactions with climate. Much of the world's freshwater is provided through forested catchments and forests protect soil, water quality, flow regime and aquatic systems. Better managing forests and water will, directly and indirectly, support all 17 UN2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Forests and water resources were identified as essential elements in the adaptation to adverse effects of climate change in COP24 in December 2018 in Katowice. A recent global assessment [1] on forests and water demonstrates that forests, climate and water  must be assessed and managed in an integrated way at all spatial and temporal scales. This assessment also identifies critical research gaps, among which forests (or forest carbon), climate and water interactions, and their effects on forest water use, water supply and flow regime stand out among the top emerging priorities.  

Emerging areas of work, highlighted at the global assessment report [1] and based on the conclusions from the 5th IUFRO international conference on forests and water in Chile (Nov. 2018), include (i) the recognition that interactions and feedbacks between forests, climate and water need to be considered at all spatial and temporal scales, (ii) recognition of region-specific synergies and trade-offs in the forest-water-society nexus, (iii) the emergence of opportunities and challenges for meeting the SDGs of the United Nations Agenda 2030, (iv) the development of new strategies related to climate change mitigation (REDD+, national emissions trading schemes, and other national-level strategies for promoting forest growth and resilience) which, through activities such as avoided deforestation, reforestation and forest restoration, may change hydrological processes and other ecological functions, (v) the ongoing development of ecosystem service assessment and payments systems, and (vi) the clear message that forests must be managed with new policy and institutional arrangements (e.g. the Paris Climate Agreement, the Forest Landscape Restoration strategies) and innovations that may result in forest cover change across millions of hectares.  

This Task Force will build and strengthen the global and regional research networks around forests and water interactions. The key goal is to support sustainable forest management for enhancing water-based ecosystem services and UN 2030 SDGs through developing coherent management responses that build on this improved understanding and evidence of forest and water interactions in a changing environment, as well as refining existing, and developing new forms of governance to manage forests and water interactions.    

[1] I.F. Creed, M. van Noordwijk (eds.), 2018. "Forest and water on a changing planet: Vulnerability, adaptation and governance opportunities." A Global Assessment Report, IUFRO World Series Volume 38. Vienna.

The specific objectives of the Task Force in 2019-2021 are to:

1. Develop global and regional networks of forest and water researchers and research organizations.

2. Highlight the role of forests in adaptation to adverse effects of climate change (e.g., extreme climate and associated hydrological events), especially (but not solely) in the case of urban-forest interactions. The role of forests in and around urban areas should be further studied and included in urban development policies.

3. Assess the interactions of forest carbon and water in association with forest management  to support forest landscape management decisions.

4. Examine the effects of forest management, afforestation and reforestation at local and regional scales on forest and water interactions, and other ecological services and their trade-offs.

5. Evaluate the impacts of self-established forests of invasive alien plants on water supply in arid and semi-arid ecosystems.

The specific objectives of the Task Force in 2021-2024 are to:

6.    Examine the interactions and feedbacks of forests and water in a broad context that considers impacts of and on climate, variability and change, emerging climate change mitigation strategies and markets, and adaptive forest and water management.
7.    Evaluate the interaction between science and related policy responses concerning declining of water values in forest areas, global forest decline, and inter-related climate and landscape scale forest disturbance impacts.
8.    Provide an international focus on and leadership for forest and water interactions.
9.    Interact with global policy agencies (e.g., FAO) and major environmental treaty organizations and institutions (e.g., UNFCCC, CBD, UNCCD, IPBES, Future Earth), and provide direct information to stakeholders/decisionmakers.
10.    Work closely with other IUFRO Task Forces and Divisions to bridge science, forest management and policy.

The approach of this Task Force will take will be to:

Develop a network of forest and water researchers, initially by contacting all Unit Coordinators across IUFRO. This will both examine the degree to which the Coordinators consider forests and water interactions to be important in their areas of forest expertise, but also the extent to which they wish to be involved in subsequent activities. This process will thus allow the Task Force to encompass the full diversity of the organization. Importantly, it will avoid a prescriptive approach with pre-defined outcomes, by illuminating new areas of concern from across the IUFRO member base.  

Organize specialized workshops and sessions at existing and future meetings or conferences. These will examine different themes related to forests and water. The first workshop held in Australia in Sept. 2020, examined restoration and water in forest landscapes, and this will be followed by the 6th IUFRO International Conference on Forests and Water in a Changing Environment in Beijing in 2021 that will examine the forest-water relations at multiple spatial and temporal scales.  

Promote collaborations across different IUFRO Task Forces and Divisions through joint workshops, publications and education.  
Publish the papers from these and subsequent workshops either as review articles or as special issues of forestry and ecohydrology journals.

Send comments to Xiaohua (Adam) Wei (Task Force Coordinator)