Trade-offs and synergies between European and national forest restoration policies and laws 

#RestorationStory by Simon Fleckenstein and Antonio Basilicata on a stimulating exchange at the science-policy-practice interface 

Climate resilience and biodiversity are mutually reinforcing preconditions for forests to deliver what we as societies need: e.g. wood and other forest products, and opportunities for recreation. But how can we reach this, considering incoherencies and unexplored synergies between European and national forest policies and laws, mirroring different societal interests, values, and knowledge? As such, they act as important drivers of forest management practices that directly shape the resilience of forests and the provision of forest ecosystem services. In light of an increasing need for restoring degraded forest ecosystems in the European Union, we need to bridge critical gaps between different stocks of knowledge, values and interests. For this, we require a better understanding of how this can be done and of what forest restoration actually means to different stakeholder groups. To tackle this question and further aspects, the EU Horizon 2020 SUPERB project organized an enlightening and interactive expert workshop in the heart of political Brussels on 15th February 2024.     

The event was jointly organized by project partners Prospex Institute and the University of Freiburg. It facilitated fruitful discussions on key policy, legal and technical challenges and solutions for European forest restoration within the European multi-level governance system. This included expert exchanges on i) the practical implications of EU and national forest restoration policies, ii) the reconciliation of emerging restoration policies such as the proposed Nature Restoration Law (NRL) with existing European and national forest policies and laws, and iii) opportunities to foster cross-sectoral and multi-level synergies and reduce potential trade-offs. With around 35 representatives from different Directorate-Generals (DGs) of the European Commission, Member State authorities, stakeholder groups, and scientists gathering in a beautiful venue, everything was set for a productive and enriching exchange. 

Two bird´s-eye- views from science and practice 

After a welcoming address and introduction to the SUPERB project by our coordinator Prof. Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat, the workshop started with an insightful presentation from SUPERB partner Prof. Bart Muys from KU Leuven. He provided different and partly competing definitions and understandings of forest “restoration” and emphasized the role of (forest) biodiversity as the foundation for ecosystem functions. Bart argued for a stronger emphasis on biodiversity as a key asset and highlighted the importance of integrating climate considerations into emerging forest-related legislation. Finally, he concluded that forest restoration is a policy and management choice, thus building a bridge to the next keynote speeches.  

Following this, Dr. Peter Löffler (DG CLIMA) provided insights into daily political affairs. He underscored the high-risk exposure of forests to climate change and called for increased investment in risk management strategies, including through forest restoration. In this context, he pointed to various existing and emerging EU policies that necessitate streamlining with national and regional/local policies. The aim is to provide added value to local restoration practitioners by incorporating their practices and experiences into policymaking. Peter emphasized that this approach is crucial for promoting climate-adapted restoration of forests in the European Union. 

Insights from SUPERB on policy and legal aspects of forest restoration in Europe  

Our team from the University of Freiburg provided important insights from our ongoing work in SUPERB. First, Dr. Metodi Sotirov set the scene in his keynote presentation by offering definitions of vertical and horizontal policy coherence from the political science perspective. He then presented an overview of SUPERB results about different, partly conflicting EU and national sectoral and vertical policy priorities ranging from (i.) forest biodiversity conservation and restoration to (ii.) carbon forest management/forest sinks to (iii.) multi-purpose forestry to (iv.) timber yield forestry and to (v.) bioenergy and carbon forestry. Metodi concluded by presenting some illustrative examples for cross-sectoral and vertical policy trade-offs and synergies between new and existing EU forest-related policies and laws. 

Next, we (Simon Fleckenstein and Antonio Basilicata) presented more detailed insights into SUPERB results on EU and national policies and laws governing forest restoration. Based on our findings from an expert interview and analyses of policy documents, we provided an overview of soft and hard law instruments from forest, biodiversity, climate, and agricultural policy areas that directly or indirectly govern forest restoration indicators and practices (e.g., protected forest areas, close-to-nature forests, riparian forest zones, invasive species, and wildlife management). We concluded our presentation with an overview of institutional, administrative, and organizational supporting and hindering drivers of forest restoration.   

To bridge the gap between policy and practice, our SUPERB partner Sara Filipek from Wageningen University & Research introduced the diversity of the twelve demo regions covered by SUPERB and highlighted the multiplicity of restoration challenges prevalent in different regions. She further drew attention to the issues coming along with poorly coordinated restoration policies for local municipalities and restoration practitioners and outlined opportunities to mitigate them in the future.     

Fostering discussions across political levels and Member States 

The diverse program of the event was further complemented by a high-level expert panel skillfully moderated by SUPERB partner Jo O´Hara (former UK Forestry Commissioner) who is responsible for coordinating the work package on “Upscaling”. The panel brought together representatives from the Pan-European ministerial forest policy process, the EU Commission, national forest authorities, and European state forest managers. Facilitating fruitful discussions, the addressed questions ranged from high-level forest restoration policies and their priorities over the potential of transnational cooperation to concrete implementation challenges faced by forest owners and industry on the ground.  

For instance, while it was emphasized that the implementation of forest restoration, as suggested under the proposed Nature Restoration Law, will primarily lie in hands of national administrations, there were calls for a stronger balance between restoration priorities and a better communication between policymakers, forest owners and practitioners. National insights on forest restoration implementation were, inter alia, provided from Spain and Italy, where highly decentralized political systems and exacerbating impacts of climate change call for a certain degree of flexibility in the implementation of forest restoration. Lastly, panelists were asked to write down one key word/statement they deem most relevant to foster forest restoration in the European Union. They included building trust, sharing knowledge and experiences. In addition, they suggested improving communication and interaction across political levels and sectors.  

Harnessing national expertise and experience 

But what would an expert workshop be without providing space to share the valuable experiences, knowledge and opinions of policy and practice experts working in the field? The core part of the event consisted of two interactive breakout sessions. In five small and diverse sub-groups, participants were encouraged to 1) discuss opportunities to streamline potentially diverging interests on forest restoration across policy sectors (such as in the context of promoting uneven-aged and mixed species stands) and foster collaboration towards a common forest restoration goal, as well as 2) jointly identify the potentially optimal multilevel governance model and necessary policy toolbox to promote forest restoration in the European Union. The results illustrated the richness of ideas and common ground in navigating the multifaceted system of European forest restoration politics among the workshop participants. 

Conclusions and way forward  

The one-day Expert Discussion on Forest Restoration Policy and Practice turned out to be a big success, not least due to the active engagement of the diverse range of stakeholders who joined the event. This demonstrated that, during the policy-making process and in related research activities, close cooperation with national experts and restoration practitioners is crucial to ensuring practicability and added value.  

Moreover, while there may be some disagreement on how to achieve forest restoration in the European Union, the shared goal of securing climate-adapted and biodiverse forests transcends policy sectors and political levels. It remains essential that relevant stakeholders talk with each other and exchange knowledge as well as context-specific experiences/best practices on forest restoration in a mutually beneficial way. The good news is that with the vast practical and scientific experience and knowledge in this field, also very much gathered in SUPERB, we have the necessary tools at hand to foster and scale up forest restoration in Europe. 

Webinar: (In)Coherences in EU Forest-Related Policies under the framework of the Nature Restoration Law

Presenting a much-needed approach to repair damage to Europe’s forests, the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law (NRL) is an unparalleled opportunity to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss across Europe. Still, it doesn’t come without challenges. One of the challenges for decision-makers, forest managers and stakeholders is to navigate the complex environment of forest and forest-related policies at the EU level. Other challenges come with the integrability of the provisions made by the proposed NRL with diverse national policy and legal frameworks of the European Member States.

This upcoming Forest Restoration Talk will explore policy coherences and incoherences between the Nature Restoration Law and other pieces of legislation, debating the main synergies and trade-offs that are likely to affect stakeholders and competing demands for a variety of forest ecosystem services. The discussion will be based on an analysis of multilevel and cross-sectoral policy coherence conducted as part of the SUPERB project and building on an extensive mapping of forest restoration-related policies in Europe.

Date and time: 18 October 2023 at 15:00 CEST

Platform: Zoom

Speakers:

  • Metodi Sotirov, Senior Researcher & Assistant Professor in Forest and Environmental Policy,University of Freiburg
  • Simon Fleckenstein, Project Researcher and PhD Candidate in Forest and Environmental Policy, University of Freiburg

Roundtable panellists:

  • Ana Rocha, Director – EU Agriculture & Forestry policies, European Landowners’ Organization (ELO)
  • Karoliina Niemi, Forest Director, Finnish Forest Industries Federation
  • Hélène Koch, Senior Policy Advisor, Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF)

Moderator:

  • Magda Bou Dagher-Kharrat, Principal scientist at the Mediterranean Facility of the European Forest Institute and coordinator of the SUPERB project

COP27 on Twitter: Forest restoration issues and narratives through hashtags

#RestorationStory by Rina Tsubaki

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has prompted confusion among its users and concerns about the platform’s future. Musk’s tweets are gathering daily attention due to large-scale layoffs and safety concerns around the new paid blue verification mark. To make things worse, as its engineers are on their way out of the door, users are also experiencing various technical glitches on the platform. Millions of users – including journalists, researchers and organisations – are already signing up on alternative platforms to be prepared for the platform’s deterioration and demise.  

While no one can predict Twitter’s future, it remains widely used by politicians, scientists, companies, NGOs and influencers who are still busy posting on the platform. This includes COP27 in Egypt, where Twitter was one of the main platforms to report on the event. #cop27 has been tweeted over 2.85 million times since 5 November 2022.  

Social media platforms can give us additional insights into how broader publics make connections between forest restoration and other social, economic and environmental issues. To see which issues and narratives around forest restoration have been brought up on Twitter in the lead-up to the event, we’ve carried out a series of small explorations based on the digital methods recipes developed by our colleagues at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London and the Public Data Lab, who are part of the SUPERB consortium led by EFI. This has been a good way to see if we could use these methods independently to understand international events as they unfold. 

We usually see a spike in hashtag usage a few days before global events like the COPs. Using #cop27we collected 217,189 tweets between 5 and 7 November 2022. We then examined the top 1000 hashtags to see which kinds of forest-related issues are present.  

To provide a way to explore some of the other themes and concerns, here are the most frequently used 1000 hashtags shown as a tag cloud, with those related to forests highlighted in green:

You can find an interactive visual here.

We also ranked issue-related hashtags in the top 1000 list. 

You can find an interactive visual here.

As can be seen in these visuals, we saw quite some forest and restoration-related hashtags amongst the most common hashtags, the most visible being #greenlegacy (1333 tweets), a hashtag referring to Ethiopia’s forest restoration initiative to plant 20 billion trees by the end of 2022. Notably, one also sees #ethiopia (5023 tweets), #ethiopiaprevails (2580 tweets), and #ethiopiaraising (1404 tweets), along with #plantyourprint (53 tweets), a campaign hashtag associated with #greenlegacy. While further exploration is needed, it indicates that Ethiopia’s green commitments, including its forest restoration actions, have gathered some attention on COP27 Twitter.  

While other policy initiatives were rarely addressed through hashtags, #eugreendeal (43 tweets) was also found in the top hashtag list. 

Tropical forest issues also came up, however, in smaller numbers, including #deforestation (34 tweets), #rainforest (14 tweets), along with the Amazon-related hashtags, calling to ‘save’ the Amazon through tags like #savetheamazon (52 tweets) and #salvemoslaamazonía (29 tweets) in Portuguese.  

The only hashtag immediately related to ‘forest restoration’ as such was #treeplantation (191 tweets). No hashtags referring to the word ‘restoration’ or ‘restore’ could be found in the top list. 

Apart from restoration, other associated issues could be seen in the set. For example, several hashtags referring to soil emerged, including #savesoil (216 tweets), a global movement launched by Sadhguru, to address the soil crisis, along with #drought (142 tweets). #biodiversity (92 tweets) and #landrights (34 tweets).  

Some forest-focused organisations’ hashtags also came up, including #onecgiar (23 tweets), a hashtag referring to CGIAR’s transition to strengthen its partnerships, #glfclimate (20 tweets) by the Global Landscape Forum, and #trees4resilience (17 tweets), a hashtag used for the CIFOR and ICRAF’s COP27 session on “Trees and forests: An investment in climate resilience”. 

While exploring the top hashtags tells us which forest and restoration-related issues surfaced in hashtags in COP27 Twitter, it does not tell us the relations between different hashtags associated with COP27 and forests (for those interested, check out Marres (2015), which discusses frequency-based and co-occurrence measures). By querying #cop27 AND forest (without brackets to collect tweets that mention, for example, ‘deforestation’), we’ve collected 3000 tweets from 30 days ahead of the COP27 and visualised the hashtag relations based on this recipe

An interactive visualisation here.

A network visualisation of hashtags found in tweets mentioning both #cop27 and the word ‘forest’ give other insights into associations between different issues.  

For example, we’ve detected a cluster of various risks facing global forests, including #desertification#wildfire#forestfire#degradation#drought and #deforestation (see the following screenshot).

The role of forests in removing and capturing carbon (e.g. #carboncapture, #carbonremoval, #carbonsink) can be observed close to #rainforest and #amazonrainforest

Global trade issues were raised through hashtags like #supplychains, #commodities, and #deforestationfree. 

Brazilian political issues emerged through hashtags like #lulapresidente2022 and #bolsonaropresidente2022, appearing closely with #amazon and #amazonia, making links between the Amazon rainforests and Lula’s comeback after almost four years of Bolsonaro presidency. One may imagine that this event may have contributed to the prominence of Amazon-related hashtags.  

While #treeplantation was the only hashtag with an obvious link to both ‘forest’ and ‘restoration’, we identified other associated terms, such as: #rewild

#afforestation, 

#fragmentation, #permaculture, #forestmanagement, 

#conservation, #preservation#agroforestry, and #restoration, which appeared closely with two campaign hashtags, namely #trees4resilience and #letstalktrees by CIFOR and ICRAF and #thinklandscape by the Global Landscape Forum. However, these hashtags were found far from the centre, indicating that they were not used frequently with other hashtags.

The word “restore” also came up in hashtags #restoremothernature, and #generationrestoration, a UN campaign hashtag for ecosystem restoration. 

Another forest-related campaign hashtag is #teamingup4forests, an initiative between IUFRO and Mondi Group. It appears closely with #sdg17 or “Partnerships for the Goals”. #forestsector can also be observed here along with #lettreesgrow.

Finally, there is a large cluster of biomass-related hashtags around the International Day of Action on Big Biomass (#internationaldayofactiononbigbiomass). Quite a few hashtags in this cluster criticised the use of forests as fuel, including #forestsarenotfuel and #stopburningtrees. These hashtags imply that the voices opposing the economic use of forests emerged in the Twitter conversation around COP27.

As part of this small Twitter exploration, we’ve also collected a handful of tweets that mentioned the word ‘forest’ and #cop27 from the period of 5-7 November 2022 to get some examples of narratives that circulated on Twitter. 

For example, the top tweets from this period included those posted by the ministers from Mexico and Colombia addressing reforestation and deforestation issues as their governments’ priorities. 

The UN-REDD Programme also called for the need for corporate investment to protect tropical forests and to reach below 1.5 degrees.

While Climate Council, an Australian non-profit, pointed out that restoration activities are not enough to reduce CO2, 

Dr Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, argued that preventing deforestation could help establish “efficiency” in reducing CO2 emissions.

The last example is Alexander Verbeek, an independent advisor on climate issues with more than 304K Twitter followers. He referred to Lula’s re-election as a “sign of relief” for Amazonia.

We’re sharing this work in progress to give an indication of how hashtag analysis can be used not only for academic research but also to help organisations, journalists, campaign groups, and others to trace social media practices and issue composition around events as they unfold. 

Building on collaborations with our colleagues at King’s College London and the Public Data Lab, over the coming years, we will be continuing to explore the use of arts and humanities-based digital methods to explore forest issues as part of the SUPERB project. This includes exploring forest restoration issues, situating forest restoration practices and mapping broader societal engagements with restoration efforts across the project’s demo sites and beyond. We’ll continue sharing work in progress and hope that some of the techniques and approaches we’re developing can be used by others working on environmental issues. 

Are you interested in this type of exploration? Read another post on our previous analysis of the Amazon rainforest fires.


Rina Tsubaki is a communications manager with European Forest Institute.

9 take-home messages from the SUPERB Governance Innovation Lab 

Forest governance is a complex topic, and we are living in complex times. A quick analysis of the EU and global policy environment in 2022 results in an intricate puzzle of overlapping but also contradicting sectoral policies in the fields of agriculture, energy, climate and environment that are relevant to forests. National and municipal forest strategies and plans add another layer of intricacy to the equation. And that’s not to mention the many ecosystem service demands by society that often compete at the local level! 

To unravel the complexity of the topic and work out different perceptions of governance challenges in forest restoration, SUPERB researchers and practitioners gathered at the SUPERB Governance Innovation Lab, hosted by project partner Prospex Institute in Opatija, Croatia, between 27-29 June. There, participants exchanged innovative local and regional approaches to forest governance, discussed how these could apply to the SUPERB large-scale demos, and created first synergies with partners outside the project consortium. 

For those who missed the event, we from EFI have compiled a list of 9 take-home messages from the Governance Lab: 

  1. Innovation goes beyond technology  

Despite the frequent association between innovation and technology, innovation doesn’t always come with the use of new tree monitoring gadgets, more powerful drones and other high-tech inventions. Simply put, innovation is the process of making changes to something established by introducing something new.

An innovative governance culture can be instilled by the adoption of a new strategy, novel modes of collaboration and coordination, the creation of a new institution or the reconfiguration of existing processes, said Carsten Mann, from the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development and the InnoForESt project. For example, developing partnerships and co-creating forest management solutions with the general public and the private sector can lead to the adoption of new practices that seemed unthinkable in the context of top-down decision-making. 

EFI’s Senior Researcher Marko Lovrić presented the EU forest policy environment as a complex puzzle of sectoral policies which entail synergies as well as trade-offs (Source: Harald Mauser)
  1. Scarce resources can spark innovation 

Lack of funding often limits forest management options and can even mean the end of a restoration project. But it might as well make people creative! In one of the protected areas of Croatia’s Istria region, the lack of resources for monitoring biodiversity led to the establishment of a citizen science programme which garnered the active participation of local communities, said Silvia Buttignoni, Managing Director at Natura Histrica

  1. When it comes to management goals, sometimes, less is more 

Amidst the growing demand for forest ecosystem services (such as biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, clean air and wood production), forest managers might end up suffering from goal overload. Having too many goals in parallel creates administrative burden and makes it hard to choose between different needs and interests. Dieter Mortelmans from Belgium’s Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), shared a simple but ingenious solution applied by the Contracts 2.0 project: creating scorecards to analyse and compare the effective provision of environmental public goods. The scorecards enabled land managers to identify synergies and trade-offs between different ecosystem services and prioritise those that were most important, making well-informed decisions on which goals to pursue based on multiple criteria. 

  1. From decision support to discussion support 

Although generating knowledge and creating new tools to inform decisions can be helpful, reinventing the wheel isn’t always necessary. In certain cases, it can be more efficient to build on pre-existing knowledge and focus instead on creating trust and a strong basis for cooperation between stakeholders involved in restoration, such as public administration agencies, forest owners, local communities, forest enterprises, nature protection groups and others. “Listening to people in real life instead of reading reports allows us, if not to reach consensus, to live with the decisions we have chosen to make”, said Mortelmans, from the Contracts 2.0 project. 

  1. Multiple forest benefits are good – but fair distribution is equally important 

Creating protected spaces for stakeholder dialogue is not only useful to gain acceptance and legitimacy for forest restoration. More importantly, it helps to ensure a fair distribution of restoration benefits. Liisa Tyrväinen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE) highlighted that picking forest restoration sites that are easily accessible to the public improves societal support for restoration and creates synergies in terms of recreational and cultural ecosystem services. On a similar note, Marcel Hunziker, from SUPERB partner Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) stressed the need for a wide societal debate on who should have a say in the future development of forests and contribute to their restoration visions. “Forests do not belong only to forest owners and to nature conservation areas, but in touristic areas, they also belong to the general public”, he stated.

  1. Don’t overlook the importance of human resources 

Forest restoration is a long-term endeavour, meaning that natural conditions, funding scenarios and policy environments might change along the way. Finding the right people with intrinsic motivation, good interpersonal connections and committed leadership is of utmost importance to the continuity of restoration efforts throughout the years. “Restoration requires upfront investments, and actors are hesitant when the outcome is uncertain. Therefore, it is key to have powerful stakeholders on board who take over the leadership”, said Carsten Mann from the InnoForESt project. 

  1. Monitor failures as much as successes 

Keep an eye open for what works but also for what doesn’t! Too much pressure to succeed can hamper innovation, while concentrating solely on what is going well takes the focus away from areas in need of improvement. Remember that success is also relative: it depends heavily on the selected success criteria and on how success is being measured. 

  1. Consider different scales but don’t take the local perspective out of focus 

There is no point in trying to implement a top-down restoration vision that is incompatible with local conditions. Factors such as environmental stressors, species threatened, forest ownership structure, market dynamics, involved stakeholders and institutions are all particular to each forest landscape. “There are many vertical issues of governance, but decisions are ultimately taken on the municipality level”, said Hunziker, from WSL. To better align different scales of governance, Marko Lovrić, from EFI, suggested contrasting local restoration activities with wider policy objectives and available instruments to see where potential synergies are.  

  1. Be inquisitive 

Finally, asking the right questions is key, said Lovrić. Who makes decisions? Who stops decisions? What are the true interests of those involved? How does institutional context shape decisions? What is one’s own positionality in the forest restoration ‘space’? Being inquisitive can help forest managers identify unforeseen challenges and be open to new solutions and ideas. 

By Priscila Jordão (EFI)