State of Mediterranean Forests 2018 published by FAO and Plan Bleu
The Mediterranean forest area has increased by two percent between 2010 and 2015, resulting in a rise of 1.8 million hectares – about the size of Slovenia, says a new FAO-Plan Bleu report.
But forests in the Mediterranean have also been considerably affected by degradation and are increasingly in jeopardy from climate change, population rise, wildfires and water scarcity, the report warns.
Forest degradation in the north of the Mediterranean is driven mostly by land abandonment and fires, whilst forests in the south-east suffer from an overexploitation of fuelwood, overgrazing, and population pressure.
Climate change remains the most significant threat to all Mediterranean forests. Rising temperatures, erratic rain patterns, and longer droughts will significantly alter the cover and distribution of forests and trees over the next years.
For example, as trees try to withstand droughts, they deplete their carbon stores and produce less carbohydrates and resins, which are essential to their health. This has already led to a decline or dieback of oak, fir, spruce, beech and pine trees in Spain, France, Italy and Greece, and of Atlas cedar trees in Algeria.
The Mediterranean population doubled between 1960 and 2015, reaching 537 million, and is estimated to rise to 670 million by 2050. While there has been little demographic change in the north, rapid population growth in the south-east has led to an excessive exploitation of natural resources.
Wildfires remain a significant threat. Although the number of fires have decreased in the north and northeast in recent decades, the number of larger fires (affecting over 500 hectares) have increased. The report predicts this trend – overall fewer but larger fires – to continue.
Water shortages and soil erosion are particularly harmful to Mediterranean forests as soils are thinner and poorer than in other regions.
The report urges countries to scale up the restoration of forests and landscapes. In particular, it recommends:
- Thinning and planting mixed tree species to reduce droughts’ impacts
- New firefighting policies that look beyond suppressing fires and include preventative vegetation management, preparedness and restoration activities
- A regional forest strategy and common policies
- Strengthening forest value chains
- Mediterranean forests are already part of the green economy, but their contributions could be maximized if green economy-related strategies place greater focus on forests
- Increasing forests, parks, and vegetable gardens in urban areas
- Creating stronger private-public partnerships for forest management
- Applying FAO’s guidelines on restoring degraded forests and landscapes