Raw materials, water, air, biodiversity and terrestrial ecosystems are all under pressure. The growing impacts of climate change, increasing demand for raw materials and energy, and environmental problems, such as land degradation and surface sealing, water shortages and floods, chemical pollution, and biodiversity loss, indicate that the planet is approaching the limits of sustainability. All these challenges directly affect forests, forest land and the provision of forest products, rural employment and common welfare. At the same time forests and the forest-based sector are mitigators of many of these negative trends, providing safe, economically- feasible, environmentally sound and socially-acceptable solutions along their entire value chains. Forest-based biomass can be transformed to substitute most products made with fossil carbon. It is often forgotten that substitution of non-renewable or energy intensive materials by forest-based products is a particularly efficient way to drastically reduce fossil-based carbon emissions and will demonstrate leadership in the development of a biobased economy.
State of the Art 2012
Forests together with the atmosphere and the oceans are the three major carbon sinks. Trees that are growing, forest plants and soils the world over absorb about one third of man-made CO2 emissions. The substitution of non-renewables and other critical raw materials by forest-based products is already taking place. The forest’s ability to adapt to climate change and to contribute to its mitigation as well as its role in providing rural jobs, livelihoods and new biobased products is already recognised. However, addressing the sector’s overall performance in times of societal change calls for coordinated research and innovation efforts across many disciplines and (sub-) sectors.
Expected achievements by 2020
Based on quantitative data the forest-based sector has proven to be one of the major mitigators of excessive CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Comprehensive monitoring systems and assessment tools are in place to prove the positive performance of the sector’s long and complex value chains in the context of global change. By 2020 the overall economic and common welfare contributions of the forest-based sector to European society can be evaluated and compared to other sectors (see also RIA 1.3). Ecosystem services provided by different types of forests are documented and appreciated by society. The means to value these services have improved (see RIA 2.2). The forest-based industries have developed new products and service concepts, which are produced with zero net-carbon emissions; they are able to replace a large number of products based on fossil and non-renewablee resources. These new wood- and fibre-based products are competitive and greatly appreciated by consumers.
Required Research and Innovation Activities
A. Assess and develop scenarios for the availability and valorisation of forest-based raw materials in Europe in the global context under changing economic, social and climatic conditions.
B. Develop assessment tools and monitoring systems for international production and trade flows including storage and CO2 sequestration in forest-based raw materials and wood-based products.
C. Provide an overall economic valuation method for all products, employment, and ecological and common welfare services of the forest-based sector compared to other sectors at national and European level.
D. Create more added value from less resource consumption – decoupling economic growth from resource consumption.
E. Explore new space technologies to generate forest-related data, including high-resolutionn space data, LIDAR-, IR- and radar data and to present those data layers together with relevant trade and climate change data.
F. Build up forest-related data infrastructures on existing pan-European and national monitoring networks in order to extract maximum benefit from earlier investments and already compiled data series and knowledge. European efforts should be linked with the Global Forest Information Service (GFIS) initiated by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and the United Nations.
G. Assess the climate change mitigation effects of competing usages of forest biomass including comparative analysis with similarly-applied agricultural products, competing land uses and policy-regulated versus free market developments.
H. Understand and monitor the role of forest ecosystems and ecosystem management, including soils, for the global carbon cycle.
I. Assess challenges and further develop opportunities for specific European transboundary forest ecosystems in times of global change.
J. Assess and monitor global developments in total forest cover and ecosystem services, raw material supplies and their potential to mitigate climate change.