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Wednesday, 09 February 2022
What is Climate Smart Forestry?

Interest in nature-based solutions to climate change has grown dramatically over the past few years, which has also given rise to the idea of climate-smart forestry. With so many people looking to forests to help fight climate change, a natural question arises: What is climate-smart forestry?

While research on the topic is new, there is a substantial body of published work. In “Climate-Smart Forestry: the missing link,” P.J. Verkerk, et al note that “climate-smart forestry should increase effectiveness of carbon removals and enhance forest resilience.” The European Forest Institute suggests that climate-smart forestry “is a targeted approach or strategy to increase the climate benefits from forests” that “builds on three pillars: 1) reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change; 2) adapting forest management to build resilient forests; and 3) active forest management aiming to sustainably increase productivity and provide all benefits that forests can provide.”

The Climate Smart Wood Group – in which FSC is a founding steering committee member – defines climate smart forestry as management that advances conservation and restoration of forest ecosystems, removes and stores more atmospheric carbon than conventional practices, and increases resilience in the face of climate change.

Embedded in these definitions are a few critical concepts:

  • Additionality: Many forests, particularly managed forests, can sequester additional carbon if key ecological values are protected and enhanced. To call forestry climate smart, the level of carbon storage should exceed what would be stored under legal conventional practices alone (i.e., baseline practices).
  • Adaptation: Climate change is already impacting forests by changing the frequency and intensity of disturbances, particularly wildfires. In addition, habitats are shifting along with site conditions, changing the form of many forests. Climate-smart forestry protects all forest values, including biodiversity, social and cultural values. Applying the precautionary principle is a key part of making forests more resilient and adapted to climate change.

In 2021, FSC submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it works to develop its own definition of climate-smart forestry. In addition to the points above, we also highlighted the need for climate-smart forestry to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples by requiring Free, Prior and Informed Consent before management activities take place on lands where they have formal or customary rights. Not only is this the responsible thing to do, there is also clear and growing evidence that Indigenous guardianship leads to better outcomes for carbon storage and biodiversity conservation.

Since all forests grow and sequester carbon, is all forestry “climate smart”? This is a critical question to address as pressure on forests increases, both from a changing climate and market demand. While climate-smart forestry can be defined and achieved in different ways, FSC certification allows forest managers to achieve market-recognized climate-smart forestry, as peer-reviewed recent research by Ecotrust demonstrates.

For the Climate Smart Wood Group, the following “guardrails” identify forestry that is not climate smart:

  • Illegal harvesting and trade
  • Destruction of High Conservation Values, including rare old growth and primary forest
  • Conversion of natural forests to plantations or non-forest uses
  • Forestry that violates human rights

Today, FSC offers a good way for the market to identify products originating from climate-smart forestry. As the Climate Smart Wood Group continues to develop, this definition will evolve along with the science; nevertheless, we believe the fundamental concepts of additionality and adaptation will continue to be central to any credible definition of climate-smart forestry.