Navigating Europe’s forests towards EU climate neutrality

IIASA

The ForestNavigator (Navigating European forests and forest bioeconomy sustainably to EU climate neutrality) Project is a new ambitious pan-European research project coordinated by IIASA and funded under the Horizon Europe Program. It brings together 24 research institutions from 13 EU countries and China to support the European Commission and national authorities in designing robust sectoral policies addressing forests and the forest sector for achieving climate neutrality in the EU.

The project will develop and facilitate access to state-of-the-art near-real time harmonized data flows, create a new generation of integrated modeling frameworks, as well as a new decision-making platform promoting transparent dialogue between decision makers and scientists throughout the EU.

EU forests play a central role in the region’s climate mitigation policy portfolio as they cover 44% of the region’s land area and absorb nearly 10% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions each year. This contribution is expected to further increase in the future. However, in the last decade, the rate of carbon removals from European forests has been declining, due to an increase in demand for wood, natural disturbances, and a growing share of forests reaching maturity.

As part of the European Green Deal, the EU has set a binding target of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, and of reducing its emissions by 55% by 2030. Furthermore, forests have many other relevant functions apart from carbon sequestration, including biodiversity conservation, provision of wood, regulation of water, protection against erosion, as well as cultural and social benefits. As a result, there is an increasing need for improved assessments of the EU forest contribution to climate neutrality that consider the impacts of climate change and natural disturbances on forests in a consistent way. In addition, such assessments need to also consider biodiversity conservation in their research questions as a means for improving forest adaptation and resilience, as well as synergies and trade-offs from the provision of wood products to the bioeconomy.

To address these needs, the ForestNavigator Project will develop a Europe-wide biophysical forest model calibrated to detailed regional forest models, specialized natural disturbance models, and the latest generation of earth system models. This new biophysical modeling tool will feed into a ‘Policy Modeling Toolbox’ including a new generation EU forest-bioeconomy integrated model (including consistent land use, biodiversity, economy, and climate modeling) and aligned with national forest policy models.

“There is still a big gap between the needs of decision makers and the capacity of large-scale modeling tools used for supporting their policies. In order to tackle these shortages, ForestNavigator will develop a smart emulator retaining all prominent features of complex forest biophysical models while adding a new level of user-friendliness, in the form of a ‘Policy Modeling Toolbox’,” explains Fulvio Di Fulvio, Scientific Coordinator of the ForestNavigator Project and a researcher in the Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group of the IIASA Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program.

The Toolbox will help to address the challenges posed by climate change impacts on forest ecosystems, and allow users to derive mitigation strategies towards climate neutrality without compromising biodiversity and human prosperity. In addition, the use of the same source data and model functionalities will facilitate aligning EU and national policy assessments and thus accelerate the convergence towards consistent multi-scale policies.

The full modeling framework and the outcomes of the ForestNavigator Pathways will be openly available through the ForestNavigator Portal that will represent the key element of a novel decision-making platform and contribute to engagement with the relevant stakeholders involved in the design and validation of the policy pathways.

“ForestNavigator will provide the EU and national policymakers with a unique decision-making platform enabling continuous dialogue between policymakers and scientists to support the contribution of sustainable forests to ambitious EU climate action, also beyond the project’s lifetime,” concludes ForestNavigator Principal Investigator and IIASA Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group Leader, Petr Havlík.

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