Climate change

Climate change is occurring as a result of human activity. Greenhouse gases are being emitted into the atmosphere, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil or gas, to meet the needs of our modern lifestyles. Everyday things we take for granted – such as the heating and lighting in our homes, or our transportation systems – all release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Even the products we buy, from carpets to computers, produce emissions during their manufacture and transportation.

Trees and woodlands play a crucial role in regulating our climate. They remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing it as carbon through the biochemical process of photosynthesis. Because they are such large organisms, trees are capable of absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon through this process. The carbon is held in the trunk, branches, leaves and roots of each tree, and even in the forest soil. A single tree can hold up to 4 tonnes of carbon.

Scroll down for more information, or use the link at the foot of this page to download a set of posters which we have developed as part of our activities for the UN's International Year of Forests. (Also available as 9 separate files in our Discovery Zone.)

The world’s forests will play a very big part in providing a solution to climate change and there are four key things we can do to help:

1. Manage our woodlands sustainably

We must manage our woodlands carefully and maximise their ability to store carbon effectively. When trees are young they soak up carbon very quickly. As trees get older carbon absorption slows down until it reaches a steady state. At this point a forest doesn’t absorb any more carbon, but it has become a vast carbon reservoir. Good management of our forests means cutting down some trees to maintain a range of different tree ages. This maximises the absorption capacity of the whole woodland. Find out more about sustainable woodland management.

2. Protect the woodlands we already have

Many of the world’s forests are being destroyed. This not only means that we have fewer trees to absorb the carbon we produce, but it also leads to the release of all the carbon stored in them. Consequently deforestation is responsible for the release of almost 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions every year.

3. Use more wood in place of high carbon materials

Wood has the lowest energy consumption of any commonly used building material. Replacing one cubic metre of concrete or red brick with the same volume of timber would save 1 tonne of carbon.

There is only one building material that uses the sun’s energy to renew itself in a continuous sustainable cycle; wood. Wood is the only major building material that is renewable. It uses less energy and produces less air and water pollution than the energy-intensive manufacture of steel and concrete. Not only this, but anything made from wood will continue to store carbon for hundreds of years!

We can all make a significant contribution to climate change reduction by using wood in place of energy-intensive materials such as steel or concrete.

4. Use wood for fuel

Climate change means we have to look for alternative sources of energy, and those produced by natural methods are the best to use. You may have heard about green energy such as wind or solar power, but burning wood is also a clean renewable energy source – providing the wood comes from sustainably managed woodland and is burned close to source to reduce transportation.

Extracting firewood and other wood from woodland is one way to ensure that woodlands are managed rather than neglected (because there are economic benefits in doing so). It also benefits the rural economy by providing local jobs and diversification opportunities for farmers and land owners.

Environmental change

The Environmental Change Network (ECN), set up in 1992, is a multi-agency monitoring programme funded by a number of government departments. It aims to detect changes in our environment in the UK as a result of climate change. Measurements are taken in the atmosphere, in soils and water chemistry and regular surveys of a number of sensitive plant and animal species are also carried out. Key water and terrestrial habitats are monitored including woodlands. For more information visit www.eci.ox.ac.uk.

Attachment(click to download)Size
Climate _Change_Fact_IYF_all.pdfClimate _Change_Fact_IYF_all.pdf3.46 MB
Climate _Change_Fact_IYF_Lowres.pdfClimate _Change_Fact_IYF_Lowres.pdf1.72 MB