Impacts of climate change on forests around the world are worrisome. Changes in growth patterns, drought induced mortality, and species distribution shift have been observed in many forest ecosystems. Albeit being drastically impacted by changes in climate, forests are also a relevant green infrastructure mitigating climate change detrimental effects, thanks to their ecosystem services provision, shelters of flora and fauna biodiversity, and key role in the carbon cycle.
For all the above-mentioned reasons, the forestry sector plays a paramount role in achieving a modern, competitive, and climate-neutral economy by 2050. A sustainable and resilient forestry sector can ensure the deployment of a new circular bioeconomy, centred around resilient and healthy forest ecosystems, and bringing an important added value to the overall European economy.
The speed of digitalisation is transforming all economic sectors, forestry included. This means that Earth Observation (EO)-based solutions have a growing commercial potential in supporting the forestry sector in facing future policy changes and mitigating the impacts of global megatrends. The recently ended Horizon 2020 MySustainableForest (MSF) project worked for three years in developing cutting-edge EO-based solutions for improving sustainable forest management and conservation.
The most promising outcome of the project is a digital platform that provides accurate and up-to-date information to support sustainable forest management decision-making throughout the entire work cycle, from planning to monitoring operations, thanks to remote sensing Copernicus Sentinel, LandSat and other satellite data, LiDAR data and socio-economic models.
Opportunities and challenges for a Sustainable Forest Management
MSF partners developed a policy-oriented strategic document led by the European Forest Institute (EFI), which presents an overview of the main end-users’ and producers’ perspective towards developing EO based products resilient for the future. The document describes the new arisen requirements for Sustainable Forest Management under the climate change challenge, considering the outcome of the Project and the opportunities raised by the Copernicus evolution programme.
We were able to match overarching policy needs, sectorial targets (Vision for Forest-based Industries 2050 and the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda 2030 of the European Forest-Based Sector), and end-users’ requirements collected throughout the project with the MSF portfolio of EO-based services and products. We then identified how the project portfolio is well equipped to respond to current policy changes in the European forestry sector, supporting the EU in achieving its strategic Green Deal objectives (Carbon neutrality in 2050).
Beside European policy targets, the MSF portfolio is also aligned with international targets and frameworks such as:
- The UN Sustainable Development Goals, a shared blueprint for addressing the global environmental, economic, and social challenges humanity faces, in a more holistic way.
- The World Bank ambitious Climate Action Plan, steering actions towards mitigating the effects of climate change (through landscape restoration, improved land use practices, and climate shocks protection) .
- FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2020 Forests, Biodiversity and People, listing the interlinkages occurring amongst forest, biodiversity and people through forest biodiversity achievements and sustainable forest management targets.
The document then assesses MySustainableForest portfolio future roadmap, showcasing strengths and limitations of the six services developed in MSF highlighting future key action areas. We identified the following main potential action areas:
- Inclusion of additional classification categories in product outcomes as well as LULC features, standardisation of training datasets, integration of product outcomes with additional forest indices (e.g. soil variables) (Forest Site Characterisation);
- Improvement of prediction and validation accuracy integrating machine learning techniques, extending the application to other study areas and forest species as well as developing integrated solutions with other products of the MSF portfolio (Wood Characterisation);
- Solving the limitations of the spatial coverage link to LIDAR flight using UAV with LiDAR systems to increase the service applications (Volume, Biomass and CO2 Stocking);
- Increase products frequency and update (Forest Condition);
- Enriching service metadata and data extraction methodologies as well as expanding the analysis to include more land cover types (Ecosystem vulnerabilities);
- Further validation and scope enlargement at ecosystem level (Forest Accounting).
Finally, we discussed the role of the MSF service portfolio in the light of global megatrends, Copernicus evolution programme, and societal developments. Global megatrends have significant outcomes on worldwide societies, the environment, and the forestry sector. An early identification of their impacts and their interdependencies can guide policymakers towards channelling their challenges into opportunities for global economic transitions.
We showcased strategic opportunities for MSF services with respect to the following megatrends: Accelerating technological change; Digitalisation and the evolution of the Copernicus programme; Increased urbanisation and rural abandonment; Changing risk of pandemics; Environmental pressures and increasing consequences of climate change.
Through this assessment we were able to map a series of commercial opportunities for the MSF portfolio including: (i) Integrating EO data for harvesting and logistic operations and forest certification schemes; (ii) taking advantage of the evolution of the Copernicus services providing timely data on the forest world biomass; (iii) Integrating EO data with crowdsourced information and IoI sensors to support forest operators in invasive species management, forest inventory monitoring and analysis, land use and recreation, wildfire monitoring, water-soil-forest nexus; (iv) integrating EO-based forestry and climate products to support the forestry sector in halting the loss and degradations of forests.
The results from this assessment indicate a clear role of EO-based solutions in supporting the faceted aspects of forest management to meet global economic and social changes in light of current policy evolutions. Sectorial policy targets and global economic and social changes can thus be gateways for deploying innovative strategic opportunities for MSF services for the forestry sector over the next few decades.