TIVISSA, Spain — Forests are often hailed as a solution to climate change, as they were recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where business and political leaders announced an initiative to plant one trillion trees worldwide.
Even President Trump, without mentioning global warming, cited the effort Tuesday night in his State of the Union address.
But while forests are vital for swallowing up and storing carbon, currently absorbing 30 percent of planet-warming carbon dioxide, they are also extremely vulnerable in the age of climate disruptions.
In a hotter, drier, more flammable climate, like here in the Mediterranean region, forests can die slowly from drought or they can go up in flames almost instantly, releasing all the planet-warming carbon stored in their trunks and branches into the atmosphere.
That raises an increasingly urgent question: How best to manage woodlands in a world that humans have so profoundly altered? “We need to decide what will be the climate-change forest for the future,” is how Kirsten Thonicke, a fire ecologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, framed the challenge.
A forest revival in Europe is forcing that discussion now.
Today roughly 40 percent of the European Union’s Continent’s landmass is covered by trees, making it one of the most forest-rich regions in the world. It’s also ripe for wildfire.