Clima East Policy Project and the State Forest Resources Agency of Ukraine on 6 July held a workshop on vulnerability of Ukraine’s forests to climate change. The workshop was focused on the outcomes of Clima East Expert Facility assignment “Building capacity for the assessment of vulnerability of Ukraine’s flatland forests to climate change”.

Under this Expert Facility assignment, the experts involved in the assignment researched the current and expected impacts of climate change on Ukrainian flatland forests (representing approximately 80% of the country’s forested area), applying the results of the latest climate models to the forestry sector. This was achieved through collaboration of leading climate and forestry scientists, Dr. Svitlana Krakovska of Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute, Dr. Igor Buksha of Ukrainian Research Institute of Forestry and Forest Melioration and Professor Anatoly Shvidenko of International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Laxenburg, Austria).

Climate change scenarios developed by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were used as the basis for the research, of which A1B was selected as the most likely and balanced scenario. Dr Krakovska presented the results of global and regional climate models and their ensembles for Ukrainian territory, which show that the average annual temperature will raise by 3.1 0 С by the end of the 21 century above the average of 2001-2010. Minimal and maximum temperatures, annual precipitation, its seasonal distribution and other key parameters will significantly change in the course of the century. An additional (pessimistic) scenario was developed in the course of the research, where the maximum expected temperature increase with minimum precipitation under A1B scenario were applied (А1В+T-P scenario) in order to model the most negative impact possible on Ukrainian forests. Several climate indices (including some forestry-specific ones) were calculated under both scenarios for five periods (1961-1990, 1991-2010, 2011-2030, 2030-2050 and 2081-2100) to assess the trends and impacts of climate change on forests.

Dr Buksha presented the results of the analysis of expected climate change impacts on flatland forests. Under A1B scenario, it is expected that the borders of climate zones (by temperature and humidity conditions) will shift towards the North, leading to increased aridity and deterioration of conditions for forest growing. These changes are likely to result in respective shift and reduction of forested area in Ukraine, changes in types of vegetation, forest formations and types, forest reliance to pests and diseases, forest drying, outbreaks of pests, increase of frequency and scale of fires (particularly in coniferous forests), reduction in forest productivity, carbon uptake and accumulation, and biodiversity decrease (especially for stenotopic species with a narrow range of climate tolerance).

The maps of environmental favourability by climate conditions (continentality, wetness and frigidity) for six most important forest tree species were prepared on the basis of GIS, demonstrating changes over the five abovementioned periods under A1B scenario. Changes in dates of passing temperature reference pointes (0, +5, +10, +15 0С) in autumn and spring were analysed, as they determine biological cycles in forest ecosystems. These changes need to be taken into account in planning common forestry practices and operations, such as the periods of planning trees, selection of species, forecasting pests outbreaks and timely implementation of forest protection measures, optimal timing for forest harvesting, priorities in clearing burned areas, wind breaks etc.

Prof. Shvidenko focused on the ways of improving resilience of Ukrainian forestry and adaptation to climate change. He stressed that the main precondition for successful adaptation in forestry is the transition to sustainable forest management. This should become part of the national strategy of transition to sustainable development of the society and the national economy, development of the civil society of European type and considerable efforts in improving scientific and technical progress. These concepts should be reflected in respective national and sectoral regulations, and be combined with effective forest monitoring system, which would signal changes in forest functioning at early stages. The national climate change adaptation strategy (which is being prepared in Ukraine) and strategic documents related forestry should specifically include adaptation measures in forestry.

The workshop attracted about 30 participants including representatives of central government authorities (the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food and the State Forest Resources Agency), relevant research institutions, academia, civil society, media and experts of other international technical assistance projects.