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Do forests cool the Earth? Reconciling sustained productivity and minimum climate response with portfolios of contrasting forest management strategies

Final Report Summary - DOFOCO (Do forests cool the Earth? Reconciling sustained productivity and minimum climate response with portfolios of contrasting forest management strategies)

Forests play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle, and 70% of the world’s forests are managed. Forest management is thus a top priority on the agenda of the political negotiations to mitigate climate change. Because forest plantations remove atmospheric CO2, if used for energy production, the wood should be a climate friendly substitute for fossil fuel. However, this political imperative is at present running well ahead of the science required to deliver it. The overall goal of DOFOCO was therefore to quantify and understand the role of forest management in mitigating climate change. The new knowledge we need can be provided by model experiments made with Earth system models, computer models that can reproduce the interact­ions and feedbacks between the land surface and the atmosphere. However, currently the representation of the land surface in these models is poor and cannot deal with questions on forest management because several of the biogeochemical and biophysical processes are not formalized in a way that is meaningful to study land management. The DOFOCO project successfully developed three new land-surface modules (either from scratch or modifying existing sub-models). Each module overcomes a key limitation of the current land-surface model: (1) a new carbon-allocation module has been implemented. The module calculates carbon allocation at the stand level but respects forestry-based relationships describing the growth rates of individual trees with different dimensions, and accounts for competition within a stand. The tree-growth relationships within the scheme effectively make the vertical and horizontal canopy distribution a function of forest management. (2) A new module, calculating the reflection of sunlight (albedo) from horizontal and vertical canopy structure has been implemented and (3) a multi-layer energy budget module, the first of its kind, implicitly calculates the energy budget of each modelled vegetation layer making use of the new carbon-allocation and albedo modules. In parallel, DOFOCO collaborators reconstructed forest management over Europe between 1750 and 2010. All of these developments were integrated in an ambitious simulation-experiment that quantified the climatic effects of forest management over Europe since 1750. The ERC-funded DOFOCO team showed that since 1750, Europe's forest management history did not contributed to climate mitigation. Clearly, this scientific insight has far reaching political consequences and may shape the implementation of the decisions taken at the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris in 2015, where avoiding deforestation and management of forest carbon sinks remained major issues on the agenda.