A new report predicting future forest product demand will far outweigh supply urges the EU to use land and forest products more strategically. With a holistic approach to forests to improve their environmental, social and economic benefits, the Climate Smart Forest Economy Program (CSFEP), an innovative initiative from EIT Climate-KIC and partners, may be well-positioned to help.
Environmental dialogues in Europe, especially among government leaders and policymakers, have expanded in recent years from energy to a more systemic understanding, including issues such as pollution and waste, biodiversity loss, deforestation and zoonotic disease (e.g. COVID-19), soil erosion and coastal flooding, food and water insecurity, and more.
Land—and specifically the forest—is the stage in which much of these issues unfold and are exacerbated. But responsible land use can also help mitigate or adapt to them. For example: Reforestation and rewilding can, among other things, help return species of plants and animals to ecosystems, remove carbon from the air, improve soil fertility, and reduce drought and flood risk.
Furthermore, as Europe transitions away from unsustainable products like fossil fuels, plastic packaging and high-carbon building materials such as concrete, biofuels and biomaterials (e.g. for paper packaging and timber buildings) emerge as attractive alternatives that can lower carbon emissions and waste.
How we use land and what we import, therefore, have emerged as critical questions that must be answered urgently, and correctly, in order to meet European net-zero targets and avoid burden shifting (e.g. consuming in a way that creates deforestation issues elsewhere).
CSFEP’s mission is to generate and disseminate knowledge, inspire and raise ambition of critical stakeholders from the public and private sector, and support initiatives that demonstrate how the sink, carbon storage, and fossil-carbon substitution (3S) functions of forests and forest products can be maximised.
Sink: Increasing the amount of forest land and incentivising sustainable management of existing forest, so that they can act as carbon sinks. This includes forest restoration, reforestation, and afforestation as well as improved forest management activities that focus on maintaining or increasing a carbon balance.
Storage: By encouraging the storage of carbon in forest products for longer, working woodlands and managed forests can be harvested sustainably to ensure that their role as carbon sinks is maintained whilst creating a carbon sink in the built environment that supports carbon sinks in forest landscapes.
Substitution: Substituting forest products for items that have higher carbon footprints. For instance, in the construction sector, mass timber can be substituted for steel and cement, products which contribute to 10 per cent of global emissions.
“Part of what’s innovative about the CSFEP is its ambition,” said Fabrizio Rossi, Programme Lead, EIT Climate-KIC. “We’re daring to address one of the most challenging paradigms within our pathway to a carbon neutral society, which is how we can use wood and other forest products to substitute fossil fuel-based products while at the same time preserve the carbon sink function of forests, protect biodiversity and support the creation of jobs. The CSFEP offers a strong and diverse set of expertise to meet this challenge.”
The programme is working with breakthrough initiatives (BIs), which it defines as: “An on-going project capable of unlocking the full climate potential of forests and sustainable forest products in a catalytic and contagious manner. Breakthrough initiatives will demonstrate that successful projects in the forest economy sector can be climate positive and unlock investment from other stakeholders in the future. The 3S framework is applied in all breakthrough initiatives in their execution.”
CSFEP also provides support to global leaders with:
Knowledge (e.g. collecting, developing and disseminating science-based knowledge to key actors)
Action (e.g. catalysing action to demonstrate how climate functions can be optimised)
Dialogue (e.g. creating a shared agenda and clarifying the forest roles across stakeholders)
Outreach (e.g. engaging with policy and decision makers to support public action in favour of holistic 3S approaches)
CSFEP is currently looking for partners to support its activities or join the program as a co-funder. It is also seeking global opportunities for BIs within mass timber in construction. Contact the CSEFP here.