This blog post has originally been published by ForestPaths' coordinator Hans Verkerk here.
The EU is committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% in 2030 and to become climate neutral by 2050. One could argue that these targets are too little, too late, but if we are even to reach these figures, we need urgent and major reforms, involving the whole economy and all parts of society. Besides fighting climate change, we also need to take urgent action to stop and revert ongoing biodiversity loss. Climate change and biodiversity loss are the two major challenges we are facing.
Forests, forestry, and wood products play an important role in achieving climate targets. Forests are the largest terrestrial carbon sinks. Wood products also store carbon, and their use can avoid emissions by substituting emissions-intensive materials made from for example concrete, steel, or plastics. Currently, all forests and wood products in the EU remove approximately 380 Mt CO2eq from the atmosphere each year (excluding substitution effects), which compensates for about 10% of the emissions in the EU annually.
Forest carbon sinks are not permanent and are threatened by poor forest management and deforestation, as well as by climate change, including natural disturbances such as storm, wildfire, and pests. Moreover, climate change and poorly planned or implemented mitigation measures might negatively impact on biodiversity, as well as the many services and functions that forests provide to our society. It is therefore important to focus on mitigation options that are both climate and biodiversity-smart.
Investigating how forests and forestry can contribute to climate change mitigation has been an important topic for me. Almost 20 years ago I completed my master’s thesis at Wageningen University in which I investigated how changing rotation lengths and tree species could affect carbon stored in forest ecosystems and wood products. I continued this work during my work at the European Forest Institute and as part of my doctoral studies at the University of Eastern Finland during which I conducted several scenario studies with the EFISCEN model on the impacts of intensified biomass removal and biodiversity protection on European forests. More recently, and together with many members of EFI’s Climate-Smart Forestry team, I investigated the role of forest products in the global bioeconomy.
When a Horizon Europe call on the contribution of forest management to climate action was launched by the European Commission, it was with great excitement that I took up the challenge to build a consortium that brings together the top researchers and experts from around Europe to come up with possible solutions. For more than a year now, we have together been designing ForestPaths, a new Horizon Europe project, which will finally kick-off in Rotterdam in September 2022.
On an exciting four-and-a-half-year journey, we’ll interact with many stakeholders to co-design, quantify and evaluate holistic forest-based policy pathways to optimize the contribution of forests and the forest-based sector to climate change mitigation while preserving biodiversity. ForestPaths’ policy pathways will include climate and biodiversity-smart forest management and wood use options that aim at climate change mitigation, adapt forests to climate change, conserve biodiversity and sustain the provisioning of forest ecosystem services.
As part of the project, we’ve planned many activities to meet, discuss and interact with forest practitioners, policymakers, and many others. Firstly, with practitioners we’ll identify climate and biodiversity-smart forest management options and investigate how these could be taken up by forest owners and managers across Europe. Secondly, with policymakers and other stakeholders, we’ll discuss and co-design policy pathways for meeting climate change mitigation, adaptation, and biodiversity goals, through a series of Policy Labs. Then we’ll analyse the options and pathways with a suite next generation simulation models and tools that cover forest ecosystems, wood products, and energy and which can deal with climate change related risks, biogeochemical responses to environmental change and human behaviour. Results of these discussions and analyses will provide for a holistic assessment of the potential contribution of European forests and the forest-based sector to climate change mitigation.
I am thrilled that we are soon starting the ForestPaths project and find solutions to fight climate change and biodiversity loss, which build on and improve our forest resources.
More information on the ForestPaths project can be found here.