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Planning for the future of European forests

A new paper highlights the opportunities, challenges and policy options related to ecosystem services provided by Europe’s forests.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment
Society icon Society
Food and Natural Resources icon Food and Natural Resources

Life as we know it is not really possible without forests. Europe’s forests and other wooded lands provide a whole host of invaluable ecosystem services. They give us the wood we need for construction and energy as well as the berries, mushrooms, maple syrup and ginseng we love to consume, to name a few. They also offer nature lovers opportunities for camping, hiking, sightseeing and other recreational activities. Let us not forget their crucial role in preventing soil erosion, regulating water flows and – most importantly – mitigating climate change. Today, forest policymakers in Europe are faced with the task of aligning the various societal and political demands for forest ecosystem services (FESs) with the supply of these services. A recent paper published in the journal ‘Forest Policy and Economics’ provides valuable insight into FES provision in Europe to guide future policymaking towards such an alignment. Based on research supported by the EU-funded SINCERE, ForestValue and CLEARING HOUSE projects, the paper identifies six challenges and three opportunities relating to the provision of FESs. It then goes on to outline four pathways for future EU forest policy to match FES supply and demand.

Challenges and opportunities

The challenges identified for the supply of multiple FESs in Europe include the inadequate alignment of FES supply and demand and the lack of policy integration or political support for innovations related to FESs other than wood and wood products. There are also ambiguous and conflicting regulatory frameworks, an absence of precise information on FES demand and supply, and of innovations to align both, as well as increasing pressure to adapt to climate change. Last, the “striking diversity” of forest situations in Europe limits one-size-fits-all policy solutions. The paper highlighted three opportunities regarding the supply of multiple FESs. First, the increasingly heterogeneous objectives of forest owners could potentially match pluralistic societal demands. Second, society’s rising demand for a broad spectrum of FESs together with diversifying forest enterprises could lead to innovations in the provision of FESs related to climate mitigation, biodiversity and recreational activities. Third, forests have the potential to contribute significantly to climate change mitigation.

Policy pathways for Europe’s forests

Four distinct yet complementary EU policy pathways were introduced as a response to the challenges and opportunities outlined. The first pathway emphasises improved monitoring of FES supply and demand as a basis for policy design and innovation. The second focuses on policy integration: achieving a consistent policy framework in which EU forest objectives and policy instruments are coherently aligned. The third pathway highlights the economics of FES provision through a European Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) system with voluntary transactions between ecosystem service users and providers. “PES are seen as a tool to incentivise the supply of FES in cases where other policy instruments such as regulation may not be feasible or appropriate …, especially designed to bridge trade-offs across stakeholders’ interests,” the authors explain in the paper. The fourth pathway emphasises “bottom-up participation, dialogue, and networking to achieve locally adapted FES provision and spread innovative knowledge and ideas.” SINCERE (Spurring INnovations for Forest ECosystem SERvices in Europe) ended in 2022. ForestValue (ForestValue - Innovating forest-based bioeconomy) and CLEARING HOUSE (CLEARING HOUSE - Collaborative Learning in Research, Information-sharing and Governance on How Urban tree-based solutions support Sino-European urban futures) end in 2023. For more information, please see: SINCERE project website ForestValue project website CLEARING HOUSE project website

Keywords

SINCERE, ForestValue, CLEARING HOUSE, forest, forest ecosystem service, policy, climate

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