Particle physics research

A new research project can provide guidance on how European forestry should be done

Adam Kristensson is a nuclear physics researcher at the Faculty of Engineering, LTH, specializing in the effect of airborne particles on climate, and active in the strategic research area MERGE. He became involved in the project because he feared that various EU decisions would be taken without knowledge or understanding of climate issues related to forestry:

“It is important that we compile old and new data and show how different climate parameters influence each other through modelling. A better scientific basis for decision making is needed if we are to achieve our climate goals and develop strategies for those working in forestry and forest product manufacturing.

One of the problems today is that essentially only the absorption of carbon dioxide is taken into account. This is misleading, say the researchers, because all climate effects resulting from forests and their use must be considered.

Unique overview of Europe’s forests

Forests are important for the health and well-being of people and provide us with many different benefits. Forests reduce climate impacts, provide us with fresh air and water, provide places for cultural and recreational activities, and are a source of raw materials for many types of manufacturing industries. As an environment for flora and fauna, forests are also crucial for biodiversity, supporting a wide variety of living organisms.

In Europe, forests absorb 155 million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 9% of European emissions, and they are a huge potential source of renewable energy and other production. In recent years, Europe’s forests have exhibited a variety of stress responses that can affect forest health, functioning and ability to provide us with these benefits. For example, drought and heat waves in recent decades have led to widespread forest dieback from fires, storm damage and vermin.

Meetings and measurements are important

CLIMB-FOREST is structured around five main areas of intervention which together constitute an important source of knowledge for future forest management in the EU. A survey will combine national sources on how forests are used and how much carbon commercial and natural forests absorb. Another working group is to make measurements in different geographical areas to capture the condition of forests and the effects of climate in different climatic zones and for various types of trees. These measurements will be supplemented by satellite data.

Several factors can have an effect, such as climate change, economics and events around the world

A third group will work on delivering proposals for so-called long-lived wood products such as furniture or building materials that are used over a longer period and that fit into a circular system. Interviews with forest owners and manufacturers will provide documentation of the trees needed for their operations as well as the financial incentives that would be needed to be able to transition forestry into a new direction.

Existing data sources and new data collected are compiled on aspects such as biodiversity and form the basis for modeling various climate effects. It is on this basis that new forestry practices in Europe are proposed, those which are best for the climate and biodiversity, but also various compromises and risk analyses.

“Many factors can have an effect, such as climate change, economics and events around the world,” says Paul Miller, ecosystem and climate modeling researcher and MERGE coordinator. “Dialogue with forestry experts, forestry researchers and environmental organizations, as well as field visits to forests in five countries will provide an informed picture from diverse perspectives and experiences.”

A series of activities are planned based on these meetings, such as workshops, advice on changes, planting more resilient forests as well as how the soil should be treated in order to counter future forest fires and droughts.

Decision makers and EU citizens involved

CLIMB-FOREST will fill important knowledge gaps. EU decisions are not always based on the full complexity of an issue. For example, the EU recently decided to plant three billion trees, including on former arable land. In the short term, this could lead to increased warming, which poses a significant risk. Over time, the benefits of carbon dioxide absorption by the forest will outweigh the warming, but over a ten-year period this will be a problem. The EU decision did not take this into account and is a great example of how CLIMB-FOREST can help highlight the complexity.

“Ordinary EU citizens will be invited to participate in conversations about products made from trees. The project wants to investigate if there is a bigger market for wooden buildings and if there are other everyday objects and interior decoration details that are currently made of plastic but could be replaced by raw wood materials” , explains Adam Kristensson.

Scientific documentation, which can provide guidance on how best to use European forests, is extremely important for EU policy decisions. Climate effects are different in forests in the Mediterranean region compared to those in the Nordic countries, so advice and guidelines should reflect this geographic variation. The EU has a forest strategy for 2030, in which the preservation of forests and the enhancement of natural carbon sinks are central objectives. They are part of the EU Green Deal, which is one of the European Commission’s six priorities until 2024 and aims to make the EU the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

Various objectives need to be taken into account to achieve the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% before the end of the 2020s. The EU forestry strategy is to balance the needs of forest owners and the forestry-based bioeconomy while preserving biodiversity and the multifaceted benefits of forestry as well as planting billions of new trees.

“Understanding how biodiversity and forestry contribute to the way carbon is absorbed in different environments and over time as the climate changes has been highlighted as an important aspect of the EU’s biodiversity strategy. horizon 2030”, emphasizes Paul Miller.