SLU news

Uncertainties a barrier to climate change mitigation in forestry

Published: 17 September 2018

There are rising expectations on forestry to play a role in the transition towards a more climate friendly society. But changes are slow so far. This is not surprising, according to researchers Maartje Klapwijk and Erland Mårald, who have analyzed how a mixture of lack of knowledge, colliding values and institutional shortcomings affect the role that forests are allowed to play in climate mitigation. The study is published in Global Environmental Change.

Ecologist Maartje Klapwijk, SLU, and historian Erland Mårald, Umeå University, have lead a multidisciplinary research group within Future Forests, thoroughly examining the question of why the role of forests in climate adaptation has not yet come to fruition, despite great expectations.

"The lack of action is driven by objects such as unstable markets, unclear political direction, costly management, competing solutions, differing opinions and vague future prospects", says Erland Mårald. "For a climate change adapted forestry to make any difference, everybody needs to contribute. But if forest owners are hesitant as to what actions to take, and to what effort other forest owners will make, they will be reluctant to act even if they believe they should".

"There are still knowledge gaps", Maartje Klapwijk says. "For example, there is no clear scientific consensus regarding how beneficial forest biomass may be to climate or how large the negative environmental impact may be".

The study clearly shows that uncertainties cannot always be remedied with more knowledge.

"Our group has been multidisciplinary", says Maartje Klapwijk. "While I and other natural scientists pushed the importance of filling biological and technical knowledge gaps, social scientists and humanists advocated other angles, such as the importance of institutional clarity and management, and the fact that colliding values are often strong and cannot always be altered with knowledge".

"The question of how beneficial forests are to climate has recently highlighted how widely values may differ, with countries and organizations ending up on opposite sides of the conflict", says Erland Mårald. "Even though this is affecting the research area, many scientists avoid investigating the role of such normative problems".

"Bioenergy makes for an interesting example", says Maartje Klapwijk. "We see how a combination of strategic challenges, institutional shortcomings, lack of knowledge and colliding values affect the impact bioenergy may have".

"A forest owner considering contributing to adaptation to climate change by investing in bioenergy has to relate to forest- and environmental jurisdiction, certification standards, an underdeveloped and uncertain future market and conflicting opinions as to whether it is sustainable to use the forest as an energy source".

"To deal with this issue more efficiently, we should consider these aspects holistically – is there enough knowledge, is there a trust in the institutions, is the governmental support perceived as reliable in the long run, and are there conflicts of values that need to be addressed? I suspect that if there is no clear direction from the powers that be, nothing will happen", Maartje says.

Contact persons

Annika Mossing
Communications Officer at the Faculty of Forest Sciences
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
+46 (0)90-786 82 21,

Erland Mårald
Professor at the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Umeå University
+46 (0)90 786 65 45,

Press image

(May be published without charge in articles about this press release, please acknowledge the photographer)

Maartje Klapwijk. Photo: Sverker Johansson


More about the study

The article Capturing complexity: Forests, decision-making and climate change mitigation action was published in Global Environmental Change. The interdisciplinary study will be presented at the 2018 IBFRA Conference Cool Forests at risk?

The study was led by Maartje Klapwijk, researcher in Forest Entomology at SLU, Erland Mårald, Professor in History of science and ideas at Umeå University, and Johanna Boberg, researcher in Forest Mycology and Plant Pathology at SLU. Other participants are Johan Bergh, Professor in Forest Management at the Linnaeus University, Kevin Bishop, Professor in Environmental Analysis at SLU and Professor in Aquatic Climatology at Uppsala University, Christer Björkman, Professor in Forest Entomology at SLU, David Ellison, researcher in Environmental Policy, Adam Felton, researcher in Forest Ecology at SLU, Rolf Lidskog, Professor in Environmental Sociology at Örebro University, Tomas Lundmark, Professor in Forest Management at SLU, Carina Keskitalo, Professor in Political Science at Umeå University, Johan Sonesson, researcher in Forest Management at Skogforsk, Annika Nordin, Professor in Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology at SLU, Eva-Maria Nordström, researcher in Forest Resource Management at SLU and Jan Stenlid, Professor in Forest Mycology and Plant Pathology at SLU.

Link to the study:


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