Climate change adaptation in Swedish forestry: Driving forces, risks and opportunities

Written by Ylva Rylander

Wednesday, 09 December 2015 18:53

SEI 2015 News MistraSwecia 350x175
Photo by Ylva Rylander; Johan Kuylenstierna, Åsa Gerger Swartling, Olle Olsson, Henrik Carlsen, Gregor Vulturius, Karin André.

The Mistra-SWECIA final conference gathered academia, journalists and business leaders to summarise eight years of stakeholder engagement, research and outreach.

SEI’s contribution included to examine how scientists could better communicate with forestry stakeholders to encourage, facilitate and support climate adaptation.

“Mistra-SWECIA has over the last four years focused on how to transfer knowledge about climate change, impact and adaptation to forest owners. Mistra-SWECIA has made a significant contribution so that researchers and other actors now can understand each other better”, said Bengt Holgersson, chair of the Mistra-SWECIA programme board, who opened the conference together with Rolf Brennerfelt, Director-General of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute.

Communicating with forestry stakeholders

A key aspect of SEI's research in Mistra-SWECIA was to examine how scientists could better communicate with forestry stakeholders to encourage, facilitate and support adaptation to climate change. A source of insights about effective climate change communication in the context of Swedish forestry came from a survey of 6,000 forest owners. The survey compared how regular forest owners responded to climate change, with owners that participated in a training held by the Swedish Forest Agency.

"The survey showed that climate change science communication has measurable effects on people’s perception of their own ability to adapt. Forest owners who participated in the capacity-building project run by the Swedish Forest Agency were better positioned to address climate risks," said Gregor Vulturius, Research Associate at SEI.

More than 37% said they felt they had enough knowledge to implement adaptation measures in their forests, and 31% said they would soon need to take steps to adapt. In contrast, only 23% of the forest owners who had not taken part in the project said they had enough knowledge to adapt, and 20% said they would soon need to start adapting.

Perceptions of climate risks and resulting actions

“A key focus of SEI’s research was how different factors - including social and cultural aspects - shape Swedish forest owners’ perceptions of climate risks and resulting actions. In general, forest owners do not perceive climate change as an acute threat, and stakeholder discussions revealed that few are taking action directly in response to expected climate change impacts. However, attention to adaptation is growing, particularly among forest officials, who see a need to be prepared for future impacts,” said Karin André, SEI researcher and member of the Council of the Swedish Forest Programme.

”A key finding from our work is that effective adaptation requires integrating climate concerns into forest operations. Forest owners do not address climate risks in isolation, but rather need to balance them with other concerns and priorities: from near-term costs and profits, to the social and recreational value of forests, to biodiversity and the long-term sustainability of the sector. Forest owners’ perception of the climate risks involved, adaptation options available, and trade-offs will also shape their choices," said Olle Olsson, researcher at SEI.

Åsa Gerger Swartling, programme coordinator at SEI, highlighted an increased awareness about climate change and adaptation today, including raised awareness and terminology regarding climate change, compared to when Mistra-SWECIA started in 2008. A problem-driven rather than research-driven approach is another important factor in the dialogue with different stakeholders, and it was stated repeatedly that it takes time to make people and different organisations talk to and trust each other.

"The perception of climate change is gradual, with the most severe impacts still far in the future. That results in the fact that forest owners are in no rush to adapt. Forestry involves fairly long lead times, and forest owners generally believe they can adapt over time. For example, as forest productivity increases, many expect to be able to shorten the production cycles and adjust planting and management practices as needed," siad Åsa.

Real impacts take time

In his closing words, Åke Iverfeldt, Executive Director for the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra), stressed the importance of communication and engagement with as many people as possible. Sometimes the real impact of a Mistra funded programme can be seen four or five years after closure of the programme – it takes time for its results to benefit society.

“Therefore it’s important to have different strategies.You have created new research teams over the past eight years, try to keep the teams and constellations you have now. Mistra-SWECIA is now coming to a close, but the future looks promising for research on climate change adaptation in a Nordic context, as well as for fostering the collaborations and partnerships that have built up over the years, in future research initiatives," said Åke Iverfeldt, Mistra.

“As SEI researchers we are particularly happy to see a great number of private forest owners who have participated in our stakeholder dialogues taking part in the final Mistra-Swecia conference. The fact that they have learnt from our research and shared their views and experiences gives us evidence that our work matters to Swedish forest owners, who have been the main target group of our research findings,” concluded Åsa Gerger Swartling.

The Mistra-SWECIA final conference provided an excellent forum that brought together researchers, forest owners and journalists, together with programme partners, insurance companies, agencies and the forestry sector. All actors benefiting from the past eight years research results on climate change, impacts and adaptation within the Swedish forestry sector.

 

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