With humans and plants heavily reliant on the depleting water sources, a team of international scientists has put its heads together to explore the role of trees and forests in the water cycle.
Among the group of 50 experts from 20 countries are four Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) scientists. They are CSIR chief researcher Dr Emma Archer as a coordinating lead author, CSIR research group leader Dr Mark Gush as a lead author, CSIR research group leader Dr Marius Claassen as a coordinating lead author, and CSIR senior researcher Dr Lorren Haywood as a contributing author.
The global report is titled The Forest and Water on a Changing Planet: Vulnerability, adaptation and governance opportunities
. Experts in the report respond to questions regarding what people can do with forests to ensure a sustainable quality and quantity of water to support the health and wellbeing of both forests and people.
The assessment report was launched on Tuesday during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.
Broad range of topics
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.
“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,” the CSIR said in a statement.
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.
How science can inform policy, practice
The final chapter of the report looks at how contemporary science can inform policy and practice.
“Gush and Claassen 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 10 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,” the CSIR said.