Do climate adaptation, mitigation and biodiversity conservation goals walk hand in hand when it comes to the management of Europe’s forests? Or are they closely related, but essentially different pursuits?
As the climate and biodiversity crises aggravate, forest ecosystems are at the interplay of multiple and often competing policy priorities, resulting both in synergies and in trade-offs. These pose challenges not only to policymakers but also to private forest owners, who own 60% of the forests in Europe and face difficult choices ahead as they aim for more resilient forest ecosystems while preserving their productivity.
To unravel the complexities of the topic, EFI and IUCN invited representatives from the EU Commission, academia, and the advocacy and policy arenas to debate key issues related to integrated forest management at the webinar “Are climate change adaptation, mitigation and biodiversity conservation in European forests: two sides of the same coin?”, hosted on the 2nd of March 2022. The event was organised within the framework of the SINCERE Horizon 2020 project and of the Integrate Network, which were introduced by Marko Lovric, SINCERE project coordinator and Senior Researcher at EFI’s Bioeconomy Programme, and Elisabeth Pötzelsberger, Head of EFI’s Bonn Office and Resilience programme, representing the Integrate Secretariat.
Setting the stage for the discussions, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Bauhus (Chair of Silviculture, University of Freiburg) explored the nexus between mitigation, adaptation and biodiversity actions, highlighting points where joint policies and management options do not always work together. He presented recent studies showing that storing more carbon in forests does not necessarily improve species richness. In beech forests, for instance, most of the species across different taxonomic groups are indifferent to the proportion of above-the-ground carbon. Similarly, high ecosystem carbon stocks do not necessarily enhance resilience – adapting forests to climate change by increasing the proportion of broadleaved trees might even reduce the mitigation effects of wood products.
“This means that not just dense forests are needed in terms of carbon sequestration but also a diversity of forests with different carbon stocks and other resources”, he said. Prof. Bauhus concluded that climate-smart forestry, which considers carbon storage in long-lived wood products while developing and protecting carbon stocks, biodiversity and ecosystem services through active management is a promising approach that offers much-needed flexibility to the management of forests. However, forest owners would need financial support, training and incentives to engage in climate-smart practices.
In sequence, Prof. Dr. Georg Winkel (Chair of Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, University of Wageningen and Research) analysed the debate from a social sciences perspective, contrasting the viewpoints of nature conservation actors and of the forestry and timber industry on the topics of resilience and adaptation.
According to Prof. Winkel, “there is consensus that resilience and adaptation actions need to increase but different underlying values are attached to the definition of resilience”. One example is the focus of nature conservation organisations on natural adaptative processes in forests, while the forestry industry tends to favour the inclusion of non-native, well-adapted tree species. These contradictions would need to be addressed by the adoption of a landscape approach that goes beyond academia, combining observations of forest managers and local actors with academic models, and assessing evidence across the forestry and conservation research communities.
The webinar continued with a panel debate between Peter Löffler, Policy Officer at the European Commissions’ DG Climate Action; Daniel Roures Rego, from the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge; Kelsey Perlman, Forest and Climate Campaigner at FERN; and Prof. Bauhus. Discussions revolved around the new EU Forest Strategy and to which extent it can be implemented in a way that benefits multiple stakeholders. Up to 200 participants joined the webinar and contributed actively to the debate by raising questions that were answered live by the panelists. Engaging and energetic, journalist Kalina Oroschakoff (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) chaired the webinar and moderated the panel discussion.
According to Kelsey Perlman, the forestry sector has received billions of euros a year in subsidies that lean towards more intensive management focusing on products but there was no large discussion on how policies can be changed to incentivise multifunctional forestry and on what sustainable forest management means in practice. She made the case for the adoption of general principles of close-to-nature forestry that could be applied in every EU member state.
For Peter Löffler, diversifying management practices and bringing actors together to foster peer-learning, ensuring they do not work in isolation, are key. He stressed the need to provide risk assessment tools and forest monitoring systems to forest managers in alignment with the principles outlined in the EU Adaptation Strategy, which the EU Commission aims to address through the Climate-ADAPT platform.
Daniel Roures Rego called for a differentiated approach in each forest ecosystem, stressing that adaptation, mitigation and conservation do not need to be maximised all at once in every single forest ecosystem. “We need to take them into account every single time, but we can talk about integration and segregation. We can either mitigate and conserve in every single forest or choose some forests that focus more on mitigation and others more in conservation”.