Illustration showing the communication gap between climate scientists and forest stakeholders
The communication gap between climate scientists and forest stakeholders. From Gregor Vulturius’s TEDx talk.

Climate change is already affecting the forestry sector in numerous ways, and the effects are expected to become even more profound in coming decades. Forest managers and other stakeholders should be adapting their practices in response to the new risks – and new opportunities – linked to climate change; but the step from scientific knowledge to action is often long and difficult. So how far can climate change communications help, and what can we do to make it more effective?

Q: Where did your survey of forest stakeholders take place?
A: We conducted our survey with 6000 private forest owners in Sweden between March and May this year. Most of these owners owned between 30 and 100 hectares of productive forests. Half of these forest owners have recently participated in a project run by the Swedish Forestry Agency where they received information and training about climate change and measures to adapt to its impacts.

We also surveyed 1000 forestry advisers, people who work as consultants, experts or inspectors for public agencies, forest owner associations and private forest companies.

Q: Do forest owners and forestry advisers ‘get’ climate change and what it could mean for them?
A: Almost a third of the forest owners and forestry advisers that participated in our study considered climate change to be a serious risk. However, the rest – a large majority – were still very uncertain about what exact impacts climate change would have on their forest or the forestry of their clients. This uncertainty about the impacts leads forest owners to believe they lack the ability to adapt their forest to climate change. More than a third of forest owners in our survey thought they lacked the knowledge and capacity to adapt their forestry to climate change.

Q: What were the strongest factors in forest owners’ and forestry advisers’ perceptions of climate change risks and impacts?
A: Our results suggest that it is experiences with recent extreme events and measures to reduce risks from these events. Those forest owners and forest advisers that considered climate science to be credible also perceived the risk and impacts of climate change to be more serious.

Q: Governments and scientists are increasingly active in disseminating scientific information about climate change impacts and adaptive measures. How successful is this kind of climate change communication?
A: Our study shows that climate change communication can be effective. Of those forest owners that had participated in the Swedish Forestry Agency’s climate change communication activities, 37% said they felt sufficiently knowledgeable to adapt their forests to climate change, compared to only 23% of the other respondents. Our results also suggest that climate change communication can raise the level of awareness and concern about climate change risks significantly.

The research was funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) through the Swedish Research Programme on Climate, Impacts and Adaptation (Mistra-SWECIA ) Programme.

Read more about SEI’s involvement in the IUFRO World Congress 2014 »

Watch Gregor Vulturius’s TEDx talk Communicating Climate Science »

Follow Gregor Vulturius on Twitter: @GregorVulturius