Saving Europe’s forests from climate change

Friday, 17 January, 2014

One third of Europe’s land area - more than 2 million km2 - is covered by forests,  which support the timber industry. However, growing fluctuations in temperature and rainfall due to climate change may have a severe economic impact on timber production.

This conclusion emerged from the European Union (EU)-funded MOTIVE project which set out to improve forest management and policymaking in the face of rapidly changing climatic conditions.

The project team looked at a wide range of European forest types and developed models for predicting their development. The MOTIVE analysis predicted that by 2100 between 14% and 50% of the present value of forest land in Europe (excluding Russia) will be lost depending on the climate scenario applied. Total losses may run to several hundred billion Euros.

“Indeed rapid changes are already being seen in climate and land use which are expected to affect tree species distribution within Europe’s forests,” comments project coordinator Marc Hanewinkel, Head of Research Unit Forest Resources and Management at the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL.

“Projections of climate behaviour show a changing trend of decreasing rainfall in summer set against increasing rainfall in winter with significant regional differences. This will result in a general increase in growth and productivity for northern and eastern Europe contrasted with an expected decrease mainly for Mediterranean forests, in particular towards the end of the century,” he explains.

The MOTIVE team developed a range of possible scenarios and accompanying strategies to help forest managers counteract the changing environmental conditions. Various options were tested in a series of 10 regional case studies including tree species composition and rotation.

The team ultimately designed an ‘Adaptive Forest Management Toolbox’. The Toolbox provides forestry managers and policymakers with up-to-date methods for strategic and tactical forest management planning. Simulation tools were also created to show the processes underlying forest change and allow for a more sophisticated evaluation of adaptive strategies.

In addition, MOTIVE researchers produced a policy brief on climate change impacts and adaptation in European forests, which provides advice to policymakers.

“Europe’s forests are under potential threat from climate change and we have been trying to find out which trees can best adapt to climate change in particular regions in Europe. By developing new decision-support tools for different regional contexts, the best know-how is now available to help Europe’s forests survive,” adds Marc Hanewinkel.

Models for adaptive forest management
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