26 May 2015

forests under pressure

In the future, Nordic forests may become increasingly torn between demands from global industry, climate change mitigation, and environmental concerns, according to a new book.

© Jojoo64 | Dreamstime.com

© Jojoo64 | Dreamstime.com

The Future Use of Nordic Forests – A Global Perspective was launched yesterday at the International Boreal Forests Research Association (IBFRA) conference 2015 in Rovaniemi, Finland. The book explores the current and future problems facing forest managers and policymakers in Nordic countries including Sweden, Finland, and Norway, and also in similar forest systems such as Canada.

“We undertook this book in order to identify the most important future challenges to the Nordic forests and to try to quantify their impacts on the ecosystem and its services to society,” says IIASA Ecosystems Services & Management Program Deputy Director Florian Kraxner, who co-edited the book.

The forest industry has traditionally been a major economic player in Nordic countries, providing paper and wood across Europe. Yet global transformations are placing forests and the forest industry under increasing pressure. Global demographic change is expected to increase demand for forest resources, which are at the same time under increasing pressure from other land uses such as agriculture and biofuel production. And the digital revolution, and shifting production methods mean that demand is increasingly uncertain.

Research is ever more showing the vital role of boreal forests in particular to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and slowing climate change, and forests are increasingly valued for recreation and biodiversity.  

“The further progress of climate change and responses to climate change is a wild card, adding profound uncertainty to all natural resource-based activities,” says co-editor Erik Westholm, Professor in Nordic and European Rural Development at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Program director for the strategic university platform Future Agriculture.

IBFRA attendees at the book launch on 25 May 2015. Photo Credit: Florian Kraxner, IIASA

Solutions for sustainability
In order to sustainably manage forests under this range of pressures, the new book shows that current models for forest management are no longer sufficient, and proposes new policies. Even though Nordic countries are known for sustainable forest management, there is growing criticism of the forestry industry for example in its failure to maintain biodiversity.

“The Nordic forestry model has so far failed to meet stated environmental objectives and bridge the gaps between the forest industry and stakeholders voicing environmental concerns,” says Westholm.

Boreal forests must grow for 80 to 100 years before harvesting, so long-term planning is a must. The new book explores research on bioenergy, demographic, social and economic change, land use competition, climate policy and other key factors influencing the forest industry, providing policy insight far into the future.

It also provides a range of policy solutions: One option is to move towards a diversified green economy where forests deliver a broad range of products as well as eco-systems services related to recreation, biodiversity and climate change. Another is increased intensification where efforts to meet demand growth takes place at that expense of the forests capacity to deliver other values and services 

The editors note that conflicts over future forest use are likely to intensify rather than disappear. The need for a broad public debate on the direction of a Nordic forest transition is pressing.

“With efficient global and national governance, the world could have enough productive forests and agricultural land to meet future challenges – the need for political action is urgent at the international as well as the Nordic levels,” says co-editor Karin Beland Lindahl, Political Science at Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in Sweden

Focus on IIASA research: The land-food-climate nexus

Future food and energy demands will lead to acute land competition and increased pressure on agricultural land and water resources. Managed boreal forests are an important source for bioenergy feedstock and, especially in the tropical regions, it is important to achieve a controlled conversion from unmanaged to sustainably managed forest as well as increased protection of areas for biodiversity.

Whereas halting deforestation is the main action needed in the tropics and subtropics, deforestation is not a problem in the Nordic forests. In most of the boreal area, the question is rather how the forests should be managed for optimal climate change mitigation. The optimal strategy depends on system boundaries and what commodities and ecosystem services we wish the forest to provide in addition to carbon sequestration.

Thus, under a high demand for bioenergy–which could result in high competition for sawn wood--sustainable management will show a neutral carbon balance if substitution effects are considered. Intensive management may increase biomass production and, as a result, carbon sequestration even more, but will require strategies for safeguarding other ecosystem services and biodiversity.

Read more in Chapter 5: Bioenergy Futures: A Global Outlook on the Implications of Land Use for Forest-Based Feedstock Production

Westholm E, Beland Lindahl K, Kraxner F, eds. The Future Use of Nordic Forests – A Global Perspective. (Springer, 2015). http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319142173  DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-14218-0


About the Future Forests Programme (funder of the book project)
Future Forests is a multi-disciplinary research program jointly run by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Umeå University and the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden. It is funded by the Swedish foundation for strategic environmental research (Mistra), by the collaborating partners and by Swedish Forest Industry.

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Last edited: 26 May 2015


Florian Kraxner

Research Group Leader and Principal Research Scholar Agriculture, Forestry, and Ecosystem Services Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313