Forests can act as carbon sinks or emitters, as made clear by this summer’s catastrophic forest fires that ravaged southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula. The devastating events following August’s record heatwave resulted in Europe’s highest wildfire emissions in 15 years. Only in the region of Valencia, Spain, the fires released more than 1 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, equivalent to the annual emissions of all private cars in the three capital cities of the province: Castellón, Valencia and Alicante.
Although climate change played a major role in the catastrophe, the fires were aggravated by rural exodus, which led to the abandonment of forest management in the area and to the accumulation of flammable vegetation, explains José Vicente Oliver, professor at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV).
In cooperation with EFI, Oliver and his team are looking for ways to prepare the EU’s forests for future climate scenarios and realise their full carbon absorption potential by mainstreaming Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) into more conventional management practices. In the new Horizon Europe project INFORMA, EFI, UPV and other partners are tackling crucial questions around SFM that remain partially unanswered by science, unaddressed by policies and unexplored by most carbon offsetting schemes. How can we manage existing forests in different European biogeographic regions for enhanced carbon capture while ensuring the provision of other ecosystem services such as biodiversity conservation and wood production? Where and how should we grow new forests, and which species should be used? How can we adapt and increase forests’ resilience to more frequent disturbances such as drought, fires, windstorms and pests?