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New research project can provide guidance on how European forestry should be conducted

People in an autumn forest
Forests are important to people’s health and wellbeing and provide us with many different benefits. Photo: iStockphoto

How are we going to reach climate targets? That is an ever-present question for many of us. A major new EU project, CLIMB-FOREST, will create an overview of European forests and forestry over a period of four-and-a-half years. The aim is to be able to guide the forestry industry and decision-makers through these complex issues using tools and models. There is a lot of expertise in each individual country, but there is no coordinated overview of Europe’s forests and forest health.

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

“It is important that we compile previous and new data and show how different climate parameters affect each other through modelling. There is a need for a better scientific foundation for decision-making, if we are to reach our climate goals and develop strategies for those who work in forestry and the manufacture of forestry products.”

One of the problems today is that essentially only the uptake of carbon dioxide is considered. That is misleading, researchers say, because all the effects on the climate resulting from forests and how they are used ought to be taken into consideration. 

Unique overview of Europe’s forests

Forests are important to people’s health and wellbeing and provide us with many different benefits. Forests reduce climate impacts, supply us with fresh air and water, provide places for cultural and recreational activities as well as being a source of raw materials for many kinds of manufacturing industries. As an environment for flora and fauna, forests are also crucial to biodiversity, hosting a wide variety of living organisms.

In Europe, the forests absorb 155 million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to nine per cent of Europe’s emissions, and they are an enormous potential source of renewable energy and for other production. In recent years, the forests of Europe have exhibited various stress reactions that may affect forest health, how well they function and how well they can provide us with these benefits. For example, drought and heat waves in recent decades have led to widespread forest dieback through fires, storm damage and vermine.

Meetings and measurements both matter

CLIMB-FOREST has five major focus areas, which together form an important source of knowledge for the EU’s future forestry stewardship. A survey will combine national sources about how forests are used, and how much carbon commercial forests and natural forests absorb. Another working group is to carry out measurements in various geographical zones to capture the state of the forests and the climate effects in different climate zones and for diverse types of trees. These measurements will be complemented by satellite data.

Several factors can have an effect, such as changes in the climate, economic aspects and events in the wider world

A third group will work to deliver proposals for so-called long-life wood products such as furniture or building materials that are used over a longer period and that form part of a circular system. Interviews with forest owners and manufacturers will provide documentation about which trees are needed for their operations as well as what financial incentives would be required to be able to transition forestry into a new path.

 Existing data sources and new collected data is compiled together regarding aspects such as biodiversity and form the basis of the modelling of various climate effects. This forms the basis for the suggestion of new forestry practices in Europe – those that are best for climate and biodiversity, but also various compromises and risk analyses.

“Several factors can have an effect, such as changes in the climate, economic aspects and events in the wider world” explains Paul Miller, researcher in ecosystem and climate modelling and coordinator for MERGE. “Dialogue with forestry experts, forestry researchers and environmental organisations, as well as field visits to forests in five countries will provide an informed picture from various perspectives and experiences.”

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

Decision-makers and citizens within the EU involved

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

“Ordinary EU citizens will be invited to participate in conversations about products made from tree material. The project wishes to investigate whether there is a larger market for buildings made of wood and whether there are other everyday objects and interior design details that are currently made from plastic but that could be replaced by wood raw materials,” says Adam Kristensson.

Scientific documentation, that can provide guidance on how European forests should be used in the best way, is incredibly important for EU policy decisions. Climate effects are different in the forests of the Mediterranean region compared to those in the Nordic countries, so advice and guidelines need to reflect this geographical variation. The EU has a forestry strategy for 2030, in which the preservation of forests and the strengthening of natural carbon sinks are central aims. They form part of the EU’s 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 goals are to be factored in to achieve the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent before the end of the 2020s. The EU’s forestry strategy is to balance the needs of forestry owners and the forestry-based bioeconomy while preserving biodiversity and multifaceted benefits from forestry as well as the planting of 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 is changing has been highlighted as an important aspect of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030,” Paul Miller emphasises. 


The Horizon Europe project CLIMB-FOREST is financed with SEK 60 million and will investigate how the climate is affected by different ways of managing the forest. The project is coordinated by Lund University where Nuclear Physics at LTH, the Department of Natural Geography and Ecosystem Science at the Faculty of Science and the Center for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC) participate in the initiative.


Facts about MERGE

MERGE - ModElling the Regional and Global Earth system - is a strategic platform for climate research, education and social dialogue in collaboration between several Swedish universities, including Lund and Gothenburg.

MERGE is one of Lund University´s research areas.

Read more in Lund University´s Research Portal

MERGE website