ECCA: The climate and making forestry-related decisions

Climate change means that forest owners face a number of decisions in connection with their forests. During the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference (ECCA) 2015, Mistra-SWECIA hosted two sessions focusing on driving forces and forest owners’ climate-related decisions.

Forest owners, climate change and the power to make decisions

Mistra-SWECIA brought together researchers and an audience for a discussion on the driving forces that guide forest owners’ decisions during ECCA, held in Copenhagen in May. Factors such as tree species, the risk of pests, extreme weather events and the market can affect how forest owners act, how they perceive the situation and the driving forces that guide their decision-making.

“Research is, of course, important in order to influence various decisions,” says moderator Bill Slee. “But we need to know more about how forest owners and other parties respond to this information. Where does their knowledge come from?”

Uncertainty about climate change and the risks it brings is a major problem, not least in terms of the lack of knowledge among forest owners, according to an example from southwest Germany. Knowledge about the climate issue is linked to how forest owners perceive risk, what they believe about climate change and whether these changes are seen as a problem.

“If forestry planners believe that there is a high risk of pests or drought, for example, it’s easier to get their attention when it comes to making forestry adaptations,” explains Michal Petr from the UK.

Information makes it easier for forestry planners to interpret the situation. What the uncertainty relates to is of great importance to how communication and adaptations should take place.

Social networks also play a part in how knowledge about climate adaptation is disseminated among forest owners. Swedish forest owners mostly talk about forestry with those who are nearest to them, their family and colleagues, such as co-owners.

“And the people they talk with the most are also the ones who are seen as being the most important,” says Karin André.

But other forest owners, forest owners’ associations, forestry companies, the Swedish Forest Agency and not least neighbours are also part of their immediate network of contacts. And there is much to suggest that forest owners’ commitment to climate adaptation is growing ever stronger with larger, more changeable networks. The effect of different groupings on forest owners’ perceptions is, however, weak. This may be due to where knowledge about climate change comes from:

“Forestry literature and newspapers and other media are the most common sources of information,” adds Karin.

Understanding the individual’s commitment is also important in order to be able to work for adaptation in the future. Both owners and forestry advisors in Sweden are a little non-committal on the question of whether climate change will affect forestry.

“Only around 25 percent of owners and advisors are really worried,” says Gregor Vulturius.

Half of them plan to adapt their forests, while the other half do not. And the fact that they often do not see any great risk of extreme weather events inhibits the desire to make a change. When it comes to which measures forest owners and advisors prefer, they disagree on a number of points. For example, 40 percent of owners are positively disposed towards alternative forestry, compared to just 17 percent of advisors. Victor Blanco explained how this knowledge about Swedish forest owners is used in an agent-based model. This contributes towards understanding institutional decision-making and how institutions can act and adapt to environmental change, and the effects of providing different ecosystem services.

How to build the forest’s resistance is a key question for adaptability, in which factors such as a wide variation of tree species are important, according to an example from the UK about the route ‘from nursery to saw mill’. Anna Lawrence emphasises the importance of not only asking forest owners, but also taking the time to visit them and seeing what they actually do. She has found fascinating examples of people who really experiment with new species and environments, sometimes in secret.

“The message is that some – but not all – forest managers experiment, depending on leadership.”

The panel discussion was largely about the extent to which different tree species are the way forward.

“We believe that climate change is extremely important, but many people are demanding action now,” says Holmen’s Erik Norrmark. “Our forests are often 90 years old, so it’s hard to implement specific changes and actions. Those who use the forest say ‘build robust forests instead of introducing exotic new tree species’.”

Part of the discussion relates to change and the types of forest we want.

“The debate between exotic and domestic species touches upon the discussion of values and culture,” Anna maintains. “The birch was once regarded as a weed, as was the western hemlock, but now they’re cultivated and seen as being valuable. Ultimately, it’s down to money.”

However, as Gregor Vulturius pointed out, many forest owners received grants after Cyclone Gudrun to plant new tree species, but the money turned out to have little effect on behaviour.

Climate, forest owners and future driving forces

The second event during the ECCA conference focused on making decisions linked to the climate and other variable factors. Habits, culture, risk and altruism are some of the driving forces that guide forest owners.

Not everyone seeks the maximum return on their involvement in forestry’s diversity and natural assets. Bo Jellesmark Thorsen highlighted the example of Danish forest owners’ preferences in terms of social values. Ecosystem services are dependent on private land owners’ voluntary participation, and these land owners also tend to provide local society with these services for altruistic reasons.

Climate change also affects forestry through society’s expectations, for example using the forest to counter these changes. In five years, at least 20 percent of the EU’s total energy consumption will come from renewable sources, and the use of forest biomass is expected to increase dramatically. However, as Kristina Blennow explained, few land owners in Sweden, Germany and Portugal are interested in switching from stemwood production to woody biomass for energy purposes, even if the financial return would be greater. Nevertheless, forest owners were more positively disposed towards changing the use of other land in favour of biomass production.

“But bear in mind the long rotation period,” she cautions. “It will take longer than until 2020 to meet the need for woody biomass for energy purposes.”

“Several studies have shown that many Swedish forest owners own forests for reasons other than financial purposes, such as tradition. These forest owners don’t actually expect to earn money from their forests.”

Knowledge, public policy and their dissemination are required in order for change to take place. It takes time for policy in favour of biological diversity to filter down to private forest owners, and the framework leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre.

“In ten years, the adaptation policy hasn’t really reached the private forest owners,” notes Kirsi Mäkinen from Finland.

A research project in New Zealand has used a generic model to tailor communication with players including forest owners. One of many examples is the fact that the long throughput time can give the impression of greater resistance to climate risks – and then it feels less urgent to adapt.

“There is now a real understanding of the climate issue, but there is still a significant lack of will and ability to act,” says Andrew Dunningham.

Various factors can hinder decision-making, but understanding some critical points can have leverage. Examples include clear information that is adapted for the target group, and strengthening belief in climate change and the options available when adapting the forest.

Anna Maria Jönsson has developed a tool for Swedish forest owners’ decision-making strategies, and believes that negative and positive consequences of climate change must be included in an adaptation plan, along with conflicts and uncertain factors. Forest stewardship can be a form of risk management in which active, proactive and reactive decisions need to be made in order to produce varied forests and services.

“The Art of Growing Forests”, a book that was recently published by Holmen, takes Jönsson’s model as a starting point. The group’s Erik Normark takes a positive view of Swedish forestry and future business. It’s a matter of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by climate change, such as greater growth, and reducing the risks, with the most obvious being increased storm damage. He sees a strong forest that stands up to problems as being more important than new tree species. Another approach relates to energy recovery

“It’s better to build in wood and then burn the product rather than directly growing to generate biomass,” he says. “I hope to see more wood being used in Swedish construction.”

The most important thing for Holmen is to take the young forest into consideration.

“With the best seeds and cuttings, we should be ready to face the warmer climate and create raw materials and growth for society.” Normark points out that caring for damaged forestry land and sustainable stewardship for all forest assets is also important.

The concluding panel dealt with issues such as the question of risk and time perspective. In Sweden, the rotation period is often up to 100 years. When should forest owners decide to change their behaviour? As moderator Bill Slee pointed out, they are more likely to do what they have always done. Bo Jellesmark Thorsen agreed:

“If your forest is healthy, you do nothing. The risk is there, but the chances of making a profit are still good. It’s better for us to focus on the few decisions that forest owners can make today, such as constructing forest roads and so on.”

The question is how researchers can retain the confidence of forest owners when certain climatic aspects will never be fully understood.

“There are some components that we haven’t really investigated,” admits Kristina Blennow. “Two-way communication, learning more about the knowledge and goals of the various players involved and creating environments where we can learn from each other. And we need a good education system so that everyone can understand why increased levels of carbon dioxide emissions affect us.”

Text: Kristina Rörström

‘Drivers for decision making amongst forest owners’


Moderator: Bill Slee, James Hutton Institute, Scotland, UK

(Session 1) Decision making related to climate change in forestry: Perception and drivers

Dr. Rasoul Yousefpour, University of Freiburg, Germany Forestry professional’s perceptions of climate change, impacts and adaption strategies for forests in South-West Germany

Dr. Michal Petr, Forest Research, Storbritannien Understanding of quantified and perceived uncertainty affecting forest planners decision-making

Dr. Karin André, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden The role of social networks in communication knowledge on climate change adaption among forestry stakeholders in Sweden

Dr. Anna Lawrence, Forest research, United Kingdom. From nursery to saw mill: stakeholder perspectives driving conifer diversification in public and privately owned forests

Gregor Vulturius, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden. Assessing and explaining individual engagement with climate change adaption and preferences for adaption measures

Victor Blanco, The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Modelling adaption strategies for Swedish forestry under climate and global change

(Session 2) Decision making related to climate change in forestry: Evolving drivers

Dr. Bo Jellesmark Thorsen University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Forest owner’s social preference for the provision of forest ecosystem services

Prof Kristina Blennow, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet (SLU), Sweden. Adapting to indirect effects of climate change – motivations and attitudes among European forest owners towards supplying biomass as feedstock for energy

Kirsi Mäkinen, Finnish Environment Institute, Finland. Biodiversity conservation in a changing climate – limits and opportunities for adaption in Finland’s privately owned forests

Andrew Dunningham, Scion, Nya Zeeland. Decision making in forestry enterprises

Anna Maria Jönsson, Lunds universitet, Sweden. Tool development for analysing forest owners’ strategies to manage risk and adapt to climate change

Erik Normark, skogsindustrikoncernen Holmen, Sweden Effects of a warmer climat on Swedish forestry

Mistra-SWECIA was involved in a number of events during ECCA

Mistra-SWECIA was also represented at the session Adaptation without Borders? How policy and practice can address the indirect impacts of climate change by H. Carlsen and J. Hedund, and at the session Communicating for a resilient future with Can climate change communication effectively promote adaptation? by G. Vulturius

Å Gerger Swartling presented Communicating climate change in stakeholder dialogues – lessons learnt from the Swedish forestry sector at a workshop titled From climate information to climate services, and also took part in the subsequent panel debate on the theme What’s needed to turn climate information into climate services for Europe?

Poster session Mistra-SWECIA

Victor Blanco, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. The role of institutions in forest land-use decision making: modelling institutional adaptation to climate change

Gregor Vulturius, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden. Can climate change communication effectively promote adaptation?

Dr. Åsa Gerger-Swartling, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden. Interdisciplinary methodology on science-stakeholder based adaptation research: The experience of Mistra-SWECIA and reflections for future research

Dr. Anna Maria Jönsson, Lunds University. Science-stakeholders interactions in climate change adaptation research – a case study of the Swedish forestry sector

Dr. Anna Maria Jönsson, Lund University, Dr. Åsa Gerger-Swartling, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden, 2015. Science-Stakeholder Interactions in Climate Change Adaptation Research - a case study of the Swedish Forestry sector