[X]

CSIR scientists contribute to major assessment on forests-water-climate-people link

Publication Date: 
Friday, July 13, 2018

More than seven billion humans share this planet with approximately three trillion trees, and both need water. With increasing water scarcity challenges globally, the role of trees and forests in the water cycle is at least as important as their role in the carbon cycle in the face of global change.

Contact Person

David Mandaha

+12 841 3654/ 072 126 8910

dmandaha@csir.co.za

More than seven billion humans share this planet with approximately three trillion trees, and both need water. With increasing water scarcity challenges globally, the role of trees and forests in the water cycle is at least as important as their role in the carbon cycle in the face of global change.

A global report titled: “The Forest and Water on a Changing Planet: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Governance Opportunities,” compiled by over 50 scientists from 20 countries, responded to questions regarding what people can do for and with forests to ensure a sustainable quality and quantity of water to support the health and wellbeing of both forests and people.

Several experts from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) were involved in the development of this assessment report, which was launched during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York on 10 July 2018.

CSIR experts who contributed to the report include: CSIR chief researcher, Dr Emma Archer as a co-ordinating lead author; CSIR research group leader, Dr Mark Gush as a lead author; CSIR research group leader, Dr Marius Claassen as a co-ordinating lead author and CSIR senior researcher, Dr Lorren Haywood as a contributing author.

Contributions from the CSIR experts covered a broad range of topics across the report, including forest hydrology, climate and land-use change, and governance-related aspects, as well as multiple benefits and synergies in trade-offs.

The involvement of CSIR experts in this landmark assessment demonstrates a high regard for CSIR expertise, as well as acknowledgement of the unique and important South African perspective on forest and water interaction. For example, South African case studies play a key role in several chapters.  

Trees and forests provide fibre, fuel, jobs and other socio-economic benefits, but when their establishment replaces other land use they also have significant environmental impacts, both positive and negative.

An important issue in South Africa is the requirement, mandated by the 1998 Water Act, for government-issued licences to undertake ‘stream flow reduction activities’ (solely represented by plantations of introduced tree species). These were introduced to control large-scale commercial afforestation activities and their downstream impacts (streamflow reductions). In the report, Gush highlights the South African science behind this unique policy, as well as the benefits and challenges that have arisen as a result.

In terms of governance options for addressing changing forest-water relations, authors argue from a systems perspective that governance represents a key driver when it comes to the potential for addressing rapid environmental, climate, social and even technological change, as we seek to achieve resilient multi-functional landscapes. In this chapter, with contributions by Archer and Haywood, South Africa’s Working for Water initiative is singled out as a successful programme developed by the government to augment streamflow.

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ Working for Water programme has a mandate to clear alien invasive species with the intention of improving ecosystem services, including water provision, while also focusing on job creation and the broader objectives of land management. The authors argue that there is an urgent need to bring together forest and water managers to allow forests to be managed explicitly for water as well as other benefits.

The final chapter of the report looks at how contemporary science can inform policy and practice.  Gush and Claassen, amongst other lead authors, state that water is central to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and forests are inseparably tied to water. The authors emphasise the need for governments and other stakeholders to understand the centrality of water and its relations with social, environmental and economic outcomes. This is one of ten conclusions and their implications raised by authors. Other key messages include a clear policy gap in forests-water-climate relations that must be addressed, as well as the management of forests for resilience of water supplies to enable adaptation to change if locally relevant data and resources are available.

Notably, CSIR experts contributed as lead or contributing authors to all of the chapters contained in the report. The authors form part of a Global Forest Expert Panel, an initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests led by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations.

The report is available for download here: https://www.iufro.org/science/gfep/forests-and-water-panel/report/

ENDS

Enquiries:

David Mandaha: CSIR Media Manager
Tel: 012 841 3654
Cell: 072 126 8910
Email: dmandaha@csir.co.za

Follow us on social media:

Twitter: @CSIR. Facebook: CSIRSouthAfrica. Instagram: CSIRSouthAfrica. LinkedIn: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Youtube: CSIRNewMedia