There are rising expectations on forestry to play a role in the transition towards a more climate friendly society. But changes are slow so far. This is not surprising, according to researchers Maartje Klapwijk and Erland Mårald, who have analyzed how a mixture of lack of knowledge, colliding values and institutional shortcomings affect the role that forests are allowed to play in climate mitigation. The study is published in Global Environmental Change.
Ecologist Maartje Klapwijk, SLU, and historian Erland Mårald, Umeå University, have lead a multidisciplinary research group within Future Forests, thoroughly examining the question of why the role of forests in climate adaptation has not yet come to fruition, despite great expectations.
"The lack of action is driven by objects such as unstable markets, unclear political direction, costly management, competing solutions, differing opinions and vague future prospects", says Erland Mårald. "For a climate change adapted forestry to make any difference, everybody needs to contribute. But if forest owners are hesitant as to what actions to take, and to what effort other forest owners will make, they will be reluctant to act even if they believe they should".
"There are still knowledge gaps", Maartje Klapwijk says. "For example, there is no clear scientific consensus regarding how beneficial forest biomass may be to climate or how large the negative environmental impact may be".
The study clearly shows that uncertainties cannot always be remedied with more knowledge.
"Our group has been multidisciplinary", says Maartje Klapwijk. "While I and other natural scientists pushed the importance of filling biological and technical knowledge gaps, social scientists and humanists advocated other angles, such as the importance of institutional clarity and management, and the fact that colliding values are often strong and cannot always be altered with knowledge".
"The question of how beneficial forests are to climate has recently highlighted how widely values may differ, with countries and organizations ending up on opposite sides of the conflict", says Erland Mårald. "Even though this is affecting the research area, many scientists avoid investigating the role of such normative problems".
"Bioenergy makes for an interesting example", says Maartje Klapwijk. "We see how a combination of strategic challenges, institutional shortcomings, lack of knowledge and colliding values affect the impact bioenergy may have".
"A forest owner considering contributing to adaptation to climate change by investing in bioenergy has to relate to forest- and environmental jurisdiction, certification standards, an underdeveloped and uncertain future market and conflicting opinions as to whether it is sustainable to use the forest as an energy source".
"To deal with this issue more efficiently, we should consider these aspects holistically – is there enough knowledge, is there a trust in the institutions, is the governmental support perceived as reliable in the long run, and are there conflicts of values that need to be addressed? I suspect that if there is no clear direction from the powers that be, nothing will happen", Maartje says.
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Maartje Klapwijk. Photo: Sverker Johansson