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Adapting forests for the future climate
Czech Regional Event session 3 summary

10th Jun 2022

The final session of the ForumforAg Czech Regional conference held on May 18 at the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague was an opportunity to hear experts discuss the type of forest the world needs to mitigate climate change.

Czech session 4

Opening the session, the Moderator, Constantin Kinský, Vice President and Member of the Board of the Private Forests Chamber in the Czech Republic (SVOL) and European delegate, European Landowners Association, set the scene by saying that what was common to all parties was that we do not know how far climate change will go. We do know the climate is warming, more so on the ground, and that trees are dying, but the exact scenario we face is not clear.

For that reason, he said the debate would take a specific climate change scenario and answer what kind of forests were needed to address it – “concrete answers that can help foresters make the right decisions on the ground and help us make the right decisions as a society”. The first panellist, Alessandro Cescatti, Senior scientist, Directorate for Sustainable Resources, Joint Research Centre, European Commission, alluded to the trees in The Lord of the Rings and asked: what would trees tell us if they could talk, and where would they go if they could walk? The signals trees are sending out say they are facing unprecedented challenges. Warming is reducing the availability of water and drying out the trees, reducing resilience and putting the carbon capture potential of the tree at risk. Too many of the same species exacerbate the problem because they all need the same resource at the same time. And if trees could walk they would move north to avoid higher temperatures. Many trees are already at the edge of the limits of the climate change they can withstand.

So how to adapt? asked Mr Cescatti. We have to plan forests for the end of the century, when we don’t know exactly what conditions will be. There are also social and cultural barriers to be overcome, for example, about what can be planted where. Despite that, we need to increase genetic diversity. On the positive side, he said, some of the harsh confrontations between different stakeholders are dissolving: “We are all after the same objective now, which is building resilient forests that can withstand the climate of the next century.”

Piloting forest adaptation in France
The French perspective was given by Erwin Ulrich, Head of the mission to adapt forests to climate change, Forestry and Natural Hazards Directorate, ONF, Office National des Forêts, France, who spoke about his work piloting the adaptation of forests on a national level. “We want to continue to guarantee multifunctional forests everywhere, because they correspond to our forestry culture and to society’s wishes,” he said. Mr Ulrich described some of the actions to be taken, including re-establishing balanced, wild game populations; creating much more mixed forests with two to three main tree species, and new tree species, also from abroad; and protecting biodiversity. Mosaic forest concepts would also be developed, with diversity of species adapted to regions. He said experimental plots would be monitored for 30-50 years.

Call for a mindset change
Building on the need for different species and diversity, Mr Kinský said that the most conservative people were not foresters but environmental agencies who were often backward rather than forward looking. “We need a mindset change… in particular of the regulations and the law,” he said.

Jiří Svoboda, President of the Association of Municipal, Private and Church Forest Owners in the Czech Republic (SVOL) said that the Czech Republic environmental agency was “one of the strictest in the world” and foresters are sometimes left with a choice of only four to five species. He said he would like to see discussions on forestry legislation re-opened.

Commonality and subsidiarity
The discussion turned to the question of balance – between commonality across Europe, but also subsidiarity for local decisions which are right for the conditions. Mr Kinský reminded policymakers that they needed to listen to local foresters “because we have to deliver the job”, and foresters could commit to listen to policymakers “because we know that we need a wide variety of opinions to be able to find a solution”. He continued: “We don't expect to have a precise answer… it's very difficult. But you have a duty to open that debate and we have a duty to call for that debate. You will not be able to achieve without us and we will not be able to achieve anything without you.” Tomáš Vrška, Director, University Forest Enterprise Křtiny, Mendel University in Brno, commented that “when you work with the concept of natural restoration and nature based restoration, it needs to be really location specific. You simply can't do a desk study and write down a law that stipulates this or that.”

Wood as a renewable raw material for industry
The commercial view on the future of forests and climate change came from Johanna Pirinen, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Stora Enso Wood Products Division. Ms Pirinen said that the forest-based renewable products that Stora Enso brings to the market have a three-fold climate benefit – 1) the forest as it grows is sequestering carbon from the atmosphere; 2) the product stores the carbon for its long lifetime or when recycled; 3) there is the “substitution effect” of replacing oil-based plastics. “We are talking about having walls out of mass timber instead of concrete,” she said, emphasizing the huge impact of utilizing a renewable raw material in a beneficial way. Of course, it needs to be based on sustainable forest management.

Mr Vrška was confident that companies would respond to the different proportions of hard wood available to them. “Here in the Czech Republic, we are having this friendly debate about the future… I personally would not be afraid at all in terms of what the food processing industry will be buying from us.”

Farmers and foresters together
The session opened to a wide range of questions from the audience before wrapping up with short messages from additional guests: Emmanuelle Mikosz, Forum for the Future of Agriculture Programme Director; Sabine von Wirén-Lehr, Director of EU Affairs, Tetrta Pak; and Alberto Arroyo Schnell, Head of Policy and Programme, IUCN European Regional Office. Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary General, European Landowners’ Organization, thanked the event’s Czech hosts and the university, partners, panellists, moderators, and the event producers. He said the Forum had launched 15 years ago to foster open debate about agriculture and now it needed to do the same for forests – bringing together farmers and foresters because “it’s crucial we do this together”.

Like to hear more on forestry from our experts panellists? Watch the full discussion and check out the other sessions of our Czech Republic Regional Event.

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