April 18, 2024

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How can we make forests resilient to climate change?

Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union works to protect, restore, and sustainably manage Ethiopia's forests. Photo Credit: NABU

Forests are making a key contribution in tackling climate change. Yet, major knowledge gaps exist on how they can be preserved in the face of the climate crisis. A new research project will address these gaps by modeling the effects of different forest interventions on climate change mitigation, water, and biodiversity.

Forests play a vital role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Therefore, measures such as reforestation as well as the prevention of deforestation and forest degradation are receiving increasing attention from governments and businesses. Despite this, large knowledge gaps exist on how different forest measures affect the resilience of the plants, biodiversity, and hydrology in the context of the climate crisis.

This lack of knowledge has wide ranging effects: “There have been cases where forest measures have had unintended consequences such as lowering of the groundwater table”, says Anna Tengberg, Senior Advisor at Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). She explains that “currently we lack the quantitative data to really know what combinations of measures are needed to make forests resilient to climate change.” What is needed is to “develop scenarios of what the impacts of different measures would be.”

The project “Understanding and securing the resilience of forest-based climate change mitigation” will address these key knowledge gaps. The project will identify which forest mitigation measures should be implemented where in a basin or landscape. The project will run simulations and search for forest measures that optimize mitigation, biodiversity, and hydrological benefits: “We want to make forest-based climate change mitigation more forward looking and integrated in its approach”, says Tengberg.

For the ideal combination, a range of factors needs to be considered such as the location of the forest and the local climate and hydrology. These factors in turn impact the selection of plants and their spacing in forest-based mitigation measures. In addition to analyzing effects of forest measures on climate mitigation, water and biodiversity, the project will place strong emphasis on analyzing the effects on affected local communities.

The project is a cooperation between SIWI, Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), and the WaterCentre@KTH. It builds on previous collaboration and advocacy on unpacking freshwater’s role in climate mitigation with SRC, PIK, the United Nations Development Programme, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, and others.

The project recently received financing of 14 million Swedish Crowns by Formas, the Swedish government’s research council for sustainable development. The first stage of the project will run for four years with the possibility of a second stage. Formas supports research and innovation, develops strategies, analysis, and evaluations. It is active within the fields of environment, agricultural sciences, and spatial planning.

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