New research highlights the devastating effect global climate change could have on boreal forests and urges policy makers to pay more attention to this issue.

Boreal forests make up about 30 percent of total forest cover across the globe and play an important role in Earth's climate system by sequestering massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis reported

"Boreal forests have the potential to hit a tipping point this century," said IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program researcher Anatoly Shvidenko. "It is urgent that we place more focus on climate mitigation and adaptation with respect to these forests, and also take a more integrated and balanced view of forests around the world."

Boral forests are believed to be among the ecosystems that are most sensitive to climate change. These forests thrive in regions such as Canada, Russia and Alaska. Temperatures in these arctic and boreal areas have been warming at rapid rates, and they could see warming of between six and 11 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

"These forests evolved under cold conditions, and we do not know enough about the impacts of warming on their resilience and buffering capacity," Shvidenko said.

Studies have revealed climate zones in boreal forests are moving northwards at a rate 10 times faster than the trees' ability to migrate. Warmer and drier temperatures could lead to outbreaks of wildfires and infestations of harmful insects. In the recent article, published in the journal Science, the researchers call on government agencies to place a greater focus on the health of boreal forests.

"Transition to adaptive forest management is an urgent need for securing future sustainable development of boreal forests," the researchers urged.

The team also highlight the need for monitoring and research of these potentially vulnerable forest ecosystems to comprehensively assess their risk.