Climate Change May Cause Severe Loss In The Economic Value Of European Forest Land

Sep 29th, 2012 | By | Category: Adaptation, Biodiversity, Carbon, Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Environment, Forest, Global Warming, Green House Gas Emissions, Land, Lessons, Mitigation, News, REDD+, Research, UNFCCC, Vulnerability

Nature: European forests, covering more than 2 million km2 or 32% of the land surface1, are to a large extent intensively managed and support an important timber industry. Climate change is expected to strongly affect tree species distribution within these forests2, 3. Climate and land use are undergoing rapid changes at present4, with initial range shifts already visible5. However, discussions on the consequences of biome shifts have concentrated on ecological issues6. Here we show that forecasted changes in temperature and precipitation may have severe economic consequences.

On the basis of our model results, the expected value of European forest land will decrease owing to the decline of economically valuable species in the absence of effective countermeasures. We found that by 2100—depending on the interest rate and climate scenario applied—this loss varies between 14 and 50% (mean: 28% for an interest rate of 2%) of the present value of forest land in Europe, excluding Russia, and may total several hundred billion Euros. Our model shows that—depending on different realizations of three climate scenarios—by 2100, between 21 and 60% (mean: 34%) of European forest lands will be suitable only for a Mediterranean oak forest type with low economic returns for forest owners and the timber industry and reduced carbon sequestration.


The distribution of tree species in forests is a function of climatic (temperature, precipitation) and topographic (slope, aspect) parameters, among others. A change in climate parameters will influence the range of most species. Forests are under strong pressure from global change7 and from the ensuing increases in abiotic and biotic hazards8. With an expected change of temperature and precipitation, cold-adapted and mesic species such as Norway spruce (Picea abies Karst), one of the major commercial tree species in Europe, will over the long term lose larger fractions of their ranges at the cost of more drought-adapted species such as oaks (Quercus spp.). So far, the discussion of anticipated large-scale biome shifts under climate change has focused on ecological issues6. However, these shifts may also have severe economic consequences, including income losses to forest owners, and reductions in raw material for the wood products industry, if measures to compensate for them are not taken.

Here we estimate the economic impact of projected climate change for a wide range of temperature increases (between 1.4 and 5.8 °C until 2100), using a high-resolution model that predicts presence or absence for 32 tree species under different climate projections in Europe (Supplementary Information S1).

The projections were conducted for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate scenarios B2 and A1FI (ref. 9) by downscaling the output (temperature and precipitation) of four general circulation models and for A1B by downscaling the same variables of four regional circulation models (RCM) in combination with WorldClim10 present climate data from a coarse (10′) to a fine (1 km) resolution (Supplementary Table S1). We expressed future climate as anomalies of three time periods (2011–2040, 2041–2070, 2071–2100) relative to a climate normal period (1950–2000). The projections reveal a temperature increase in northern Europe in winter and in the Mediterranean and eastern Europe in summer. Precipitation is expected to increase in central and northern Europe in winter and to decrease in central and (south-) western Europe in summer. Trends are similar for all scenarios, but larger and more distinct, with more extreme values, in the A1FI scenario.

Development of the share of the area of major tree species in Europe under scenario A1B until 2100.To provide a comprehensive overview of potential range shifts and their economic impact, we grouped and ordered major tree species according to their economic importance based on an estimate of their output and value of produced timber. We fitted species distribution models3 under present climate conditions for the whole area of Europe (excluding Russia) on a 750×750 m spatial resolution and projected the species range shifts for three future periods and for the scenarios B2, A1B and A1FI using four different climate model outputs per scenario. For each pixel we chose the tree species group with the highest economic performance that was still projected to occur under the given climatic conditions, to model the best-case economic scenario for managed forests.

Our models reveal that the projected changes in climate will lead to distinct changes in the potential ranges of European tree species and thus their suitable area of growth (Figs 1 and 2). We show that under all three scenarios the major commercial tree species in Europe, Norway spruce, shifts northward and probably loses large parts of its present range in central, eastern and western Europe (Fig. 1). By 2100, according to our projections, suitable Norway spruce habitats will be restricted to the higher elevations in central Europe and to areas in northern Sweden, Finland and Norway. For broadleaves such as oak and beech the model projects a range shift from today’s ranges in western Europe (France, Netherlands, Germany) and the lower elevations in central and eastern Europe more to central, northern and northeastern Europe (see Fig. 2 for a moderate realization (CLM/ECHAM5) of the A1B scenario and Supplementary Figs S3–S6).

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