Connecting public administration and academia to improve carbon offsetting in forestry

With the aim of improving collaboration between public administration and academia in the field of Sustainable Forest Management, the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) held a conference on 3 May highlighting the role of the forestry sector as a carbon sink, as well as UPV’s scientific and technical work to speed up climate adaptation and strengthen the fight against the climate emergency.

Translating scientific knowledge into practice is not easy. For this reason, meaningful communication between different agents in the sector through in-person interactions can be extremely useful. Bringing science closer to all actors in a simple and colloquial language while using scientific data as a basis helps generate confidence when making decisions and establishing policies and regulatory frameworks.

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) and the opportunity to finance it through carbon offset mechanisms was the common thread of the workshop, as in the last decades, carbon offset markets have strongly emerged as a dual opportunity. On the one hand, for public/private stakeholders committed to sustainability and preservation of natural capital to become climate neutral and offset their emissions at the local level. On the other hand, for local governments to finance the implementation of SFM measures and offer incentives to halt rural depopulation.

The conference „Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) as a basis for carbon offset markets” was organised by the Observatory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Valencian Region and the coordinating team of INFORMA, both belonging to UPV’s ICT Research Group against Climate Change (ICTvsCC). The event was opened by Prof. Dr. Javier F. Urchueguía, Professor of Applied Physics, and Prof. Dr. José Vicente Oliver Villanueva, Professor of Forestry Engineering and coordinator of INFORMA.

After the opening, two didactic presentations were given, highlighting the specific objectives of the conference:

  1. To analyse and evaluate existing tools (standards and mechanisms) for the establishment of carbon offset markets, at the European, national and regional levels, assessing the opportunities for SFM in adaptation and mitigation to climate change in Mediterranean conditions.
  2. Quantify and evaluate carbon emissions and sources in the Valencian Region, as a basis for the establishment of a rigorous offset market, supported by the new Valencian Law on Climate Change.

ICTvsCC researcher and technical coordinator of INFORMA, Celia Yagüe, focused her presentation on explaining how carbon offset markets based on rigorous standards and mechanisms represent a great opportunity for the implementation of SFM in our forests. In addition, she stressed that this must be done in compliance with an essential requirement: to favour a territorial, environmental and socially just transition.

Rural areas have traditionally been the most neglected by public investments, but they hold the opportunity to offer carbon credits for SFM, and the recent Valencian Law on Climate Change opens a very important avenue for that, remarked Yagüe. In line with this objective, UPV is taking the first steps to ensure rigorous methodologies that use the latest technological advances through INFORMA. Work is being carried out on the proposal of technological and conceptual improvements, which will be applied to the project’s five European case studies, to check their efficiency in economic and precision terms. Conclusions will be drawn from this work to recommend improvements to the new European regulation for a CO2 absorption certification framework at the EU level.

Dr. Edgar Lorenzo, ICTvsCC researcher and Technical Coordinator of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Observatory, explained the large impact of forest fires in the quantification of greenhouse gases, which can represent a large percentage of total emissions. In this sense, Lorenzo highlighted the importance of developing methodologies for calculating carbon credits from SFM projects aimed at fire prevention within voluntary carbon offsetting mechanisms in Mediterranean forest ecosystems. He stressed how this type of project can help in mitigating and adapting to climate change as well as in the territorial structuring of the territory, generating rural employment and stopping depopulation.

You can access the recordings of the two presentations below (in Spanish): 

After these two presentations, two roundtables were held. The first panel, Science at the Service of the Administration, focused on how forest owners (public and private) can expand and improve SFM so that industrial and economic sectors responsible for diffuse emissions can make use of SFM as a carbon offsetting mechanism.


Manuel Civera, from the Valencian Agency for Territorial Protection, focused on waste heat valorisation of regional forest biomass technologies as an opportunity for territorial and rural development.

For his part, Juan Uriol, from the Directorate General of Natural Environment and Environmental Assessment (Valencian Regional Government) indicated the public and voluntary carbon footprint register as a novelty within the new Regulation of the Valencian Forestry Law. The register envisages silvicultural improvements as a way to offset carbon instead of, for instance, charging fees. Another point made by Uriol was that, in order to combat forest fires, investment in fire prevention is vital.

Beatriu Femenia, from the Valencian Regional Government (DG Climate Change-Valencian Regional Government), also underlined the opportunity to include SFM activities in the carbon register of the Valencian Region, highlighting the cooperation between science and administration that is taking place through different channels, including UPV’s Observatory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Joan Aguado, from the Regional County Council of Valencia, mentioned the Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (PACES) as a good practice example. However, he pointed out that in many municipalities grants are not executed due to a lack of knowledge or people trained to carry them out. He also pointed out the importance of SFM for sustaining ecosystem functions (adaptation) and the need to quantify, certify and fix carbon as inter-territorial compensation between coastal and inland areas.

Fernando Pradells, from AMUFOR (Association of Forestry Municipalities of the Valencian Region), focused his talk on the need to demand SFM as a goal and not as a tool, in which value is given to the bioeconomy with tangible products.

Edgar Lorenzo, from UPV, pointed out that the economic value of carbon is only a leverage to support other ecosystem services such as biodiversity, the water footprint, or the prevention of forest fires in the Mediterranean basin.

The second roundtable discussed opportunities for voluntary carbon offsetting in companies and other organisations. Among the different statements and insights, the following can be highlighted:

David Álvarez, representative of the Spanish Green Growth Group, commented on how this organisation helps the public administration to optimise policies and instruments for private investment, as they spark interest from businesses but there must be agile regulations and tools to facilitate corporate involvement. He also indicated that „Companies will invest in transformation because it will be part of their business model, not only seen as corporate social responsibility….. so that the activities do not only make sense but also have a purpose”. He mentioned that companies only invest if there are associated returns, so we must be able to transform not only carbon markets but also other forms of profit associated with natural capital. Otherwise, we will not achieve the path to fair transformation.

Eloy Jiménez, from the Hozono Global Group, spoke about the contributions of remote sensing to measure C02, emphasising the importance of quantifying and fixing carbon using tools for small offsets.

Ana-Karen Zapata, Operations Director of ClimateTrade, explained how coherence in the development of regional methodologies helps to follow the sequence of measuring and reducing emissions, with offsetting as the last step. She emphasised the need for tools that provide real-time information and mentioned the high price of offsetting in the international market.

Inés Picazo, Coordinator of the ASECAM Forum, addressed the importance of having a Committee of leading companies at the local level, both in the medium and long term. Picazo considers that programmes and/or policies that already work in other Spanish regions and that represent an opportunity for growth as a country should be taken into account.

Rodrigo Simón, from the Valencia Chamber of Commerce, stated that promoting local and sustainable businesses is the future of municipalities. From his experience, after several audits in Valencian companies, great potential can be seen for the reduction and compensation of CO2, however, more effective calculation tools are still needed.

You can watch the recording of the roundtable sessions below:

José Vicente Oliver, Professor of Forestry Engineering at the UPV, closed the conference by reading out the following takeaway messages:

  • Carbon offsetting, specifically in SFM, is an opportunity but it should not be the first priority. First emissions must be calculated, then reduced and then offset.
  • There is a lack of mechanisms or standards for SFM specific to actions in Mediterranean forest ecosystems, both in adaptation and mitigation activities.
  • In the Valencian Region, there is significant territorial dispersion, which affects not only carbon offsetting but all ecosystem services in general. These services should be articulated as a tool for inter-territorial solidarity for a just transition.
  • The offer side (public and private landowners) must do their homework so that regulations and standards between them are coherent, thereby speeding up administrative processes.
  • Companies will invest in carbon offsetting mechanisms if it is really part of their business model and not only part of their corporate social responsibility.
  • There are technological tools developed by UPV and Technological Institutes at the service of the forestry sector, as well as the rigorous and quality data that support them.

Interview: The interplay between the new Valencian Climate Change Law, forests and rural development

By Marta Esteve, Polytechnic University of Valencia

In December 2022, the new Law on Climate Change and Ecological Transition of the Valencian Region came into force, setting targets to make the Valencian Region climate neutral by 2050.

The law creates a series of mechanisms to decarbonise different economic sectors and public administrations, such as a carbon footprint register where companies and public entities must register their carbon footprint and submit decarbonisation plans. The text places more emphasis on the so-called diffuse economic sectors (services) and establishes mobility policies such as the creation of low-emission zones, and the promotion of public transport and zero-emission vehicles. Three green taxes will be applied to polluting vehicles, commercial areas with a high number of vehicles, and industries that emit large amounts of CO2. Since its approval, the law is being presented and disseminated to stakeholders and society in general.

To discuss key aspects of the law, implementation challenges and how it relates to forests, INFORMA’s Project Controller and Communications Coordinator at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), Marta Esteve, interviewed the Director General of Climate Change of the Valencian Region, Celsa Monrós. Read the highlights of the interview below!

The Director General of Climate Change of the Valencian Region, Celsa Monrós

What are the strengths of the new Valencian Climate Change law?

The law sets binding objectives for the whole society and all regional and local administrations in order to prepare the transition to a sustainable society and economy adapted to the impacts of climate change. It also sets up governance mechanisms and tools such as the Emissions Inventory, the Registry of Climate Initiatives, the Valencian Integrated Energy and Climate Change Plan, and the municipal Climate Action Plans to make this transition easier.

What have been the main difficulties in drafting the law? What will be the main challenges to putting it into practice?

Any regulatory text, due to its own nature and the need to ensure legal certainty, entails a very long and complex process, which sometimes becomes demotivating if you are not very clear about your goal. Another point was the level of concreteness and ambition: it is a very cross-cutting law that covers all areas of the economy and society. Deciding on the level of detail that we should define in the law and what we should leave for further development was complicated – finding the proper balance, even though it is a very extensive law that defines specific measures. We were criticised by some sectors for not defining it even more, but we had to make a cut at some point.

How will the new standard contribute to territorial development, specially to stop rural depopulation and all the associated activities, such as forest management?

We have to find formulas to be able to pay for the ecosystem services provided by rural areas, understanding them as large areas of carbon sequestration from the natural environment, but also areas with large territories where solar or photovoltaic power plants can be set up. The rural landscape will change like the rest of the landscape, partly due to the impacts of climate change (desertification, crop change, major fires, redefinition of the coastline), and partly due to new activities (implementation of renewable energies). We must find a balance through a brave dialogue with rural communities so that they do not feel that they are once again the ones paying for the transition, but rather that they are key players in it.

In forest management, biomass can play a fundamental role as a repository of carbon, which not only has an output as a source of renewable energy but also as a raw material for a multitude of products that until now have come from fossil fuels.

How do you foresee Sustainable Forest Management and voluntary carbon offset markets within the framework of this law?

Within the Registry of Climate Change Initiatives, there is a section on offsetting emissions, where we want to promote the voluntary carbon offset market. We will also have to identify areas that can be reforested or managed and formulas for their transfer or exploitation for offset projects, taking into account the ownership and the ecosystemic characteristics of the area.

What relevance does climate mitigation have in the law?

It is one of the most important aspects, hence the objectives and the need to know the carbon footprint and the reduction plans of all those sectors that have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions in the Valencian Region. But of course, the adaptation part also is a very important component, because we cannot forget that climate change is already having consequences in our territory, which are increasing, and for which we must be prepared to reduce our vulnerability and give an effective response when they take place.

How is the law articulated with the EU Forestry Strategy and other European Union mechanisms?

This law has aimed to align itself with the European Green Deal, the RePowerEU, the national legislation and that which already existed in the Valencian Autonomous Region. As I have mentioned, the dialogue with the other actors and departments has been continuous, and right now the Forestry Regulation of the Valencian Region is at the point of being approved, which has taken into account the law on issues such as the resilience of our forests and the creation of mechanisms to facilitate reforestation for the compensation of emissions. In the end we are all clear about the diagnosis, objectives and we are aligning the mechanisms to provide the most effective and efficient response possible. We must coordinate and act on each administration in the field of our competences so that the government machinery is synchronized and aligned.

How have you integrated and involved relevant actors in the implementation of the law? How do you plan to keep doing it in the future?

It is a law that has been very participatory. We began with sectoral roundtables, with the participation of more than 80 public and private entities, where we were able to listen to the different approaches to the fight against climate change, barriers, interests and needs of each sector. Then there was a period of allegations, with more than 200 proposals, and finally the legislative debate in the Valencian Regional Parliament.

Currently, we are in the process of disseminating and communicating about the law, and then, within the law, we have created a system of governance in which both the administration, through the Climate Change Policy Coordination Commission, and the community, through the Citizen Assembly or the Environmental Advisory and Participation Council, have a voice in the development and monitoring of the measures.

To what extent does the law use and supports scientific-technical collaborations and public-private partnerships?

The law includes the creation of a Committee of Experts, which should help to develop and define the measures for the transition to a new economic and social model, in which, of course, all the stakeholders of society will have to be involved. Research, training and education are also mentioned as part of this blend to develop new services and new economic models.

At the moment we are already working in many sectors with these public-private alliances, such as in water purification or waste treatment, where waste management is being tendered out to companies. Now, these companies must go further and understand their role in reducing emissions, through, for example, the production of biogas as an added value to water treatment or organic waste treatment to reduce methane emissions.

The production of renewable energies is also one of the most controversial issues, where land occupation, the possibility of compensatory payments to municipalities, or compatibility with other activities will lead to the negotiation and creation of partnerships between companies, society and public administration.

What are the law’s most ambitious objectives? What main advances does this regional law provide with respect to the national one?

The reduction of diffuse emissions to 40% with regard to 1990 is surely the most ambitious objective of all, and one that requires changes in energy production, the building sector, urban planning, mobility, agriculture and management of the natural environment. We are talking about the need to include the climate perspective in absolutely all economic and social sectors.

The law follows the „polluter pays” premise with the corresponding taxes on emissions. Are there any lines of subsidies, incentives or other measures envisaged beyond individual awareness?

The taxes that are created, of which there are three types, have a more educational function than a revenue-raising one, but in any case they are finalist taxes. This means that the collection made from them, in addition to those budgetary amounts that can be defined by the Valencian Regional Government later on, will be destined to an Ecological Transition Fund that will help to make the necessary transition in different sectors and that its destination will be defined on an annual basis.

Managing your forest or not? Find out with the INFORMA Forest Management Platform

By Jonas Simons and Bart Muys (KU Leuven)

Imagine you are responsible for a large, forested area in Europe. Will you manage it, or let nature run its course? If you decide to manage your forest, what would be the consequences? Would it store more carbon? Would it use its resources more efficiently, or produce more wood? What about biodiversity conservation? Would the unmanaged choice have more bird species? Another factor to consider is the frequency of disturbance events, such as fires and windstorms, which is increasing due to climate change. Since you will want to keep the resilience of your forest high, which management option would contribute better to this goal?

Unfortunately, current research answers these questions ambiguously. The relationships between the management of forests, provisioning of several ecosystem services and resilience to disturbances remain rather unclear. In addition, several of the ecosystem services we expect from forests have trade-offs between each other. The bottom line is: before deciding what to do with your forest, you should know your viable management options (including the decision to not manage), and which consequences different implementation options have on how your forest functions. In Work Package 2 (WP2) of INFORMA, led by KU Leuven, we will investigate this knowledge gap. To do so, we are developing the INFORMA Forest Management Platform: a new, large database that is specifically designed to answer management-related questions for European forests. 

The idea behind the Platform is to compare adjacent managed and unmanaged forest patches all over Europe. This is being done by linking unmanaged patches with one or more managed patches in their vicinity (as shown in the banner image of this post). We can then compare ecosystem functioning between the forest patches in such a cluster.

However, if we want to statistically extract the effect of forest management, we should keep other factors that influence ecosystem functioning as similar as possible. This is why forest patches within a cluster should differ as little as possible in terms of climate, soil, topography (elevation, slope and aspect) and land use legacy.

Also the species composition is accounted for. This variable is somewhat more complex: within the cluster, we make sure that there is at least one managed patch that has a similar species composition to the unmanaged patch. This allows us to investigate the effect of management that influences forest structure (such as thinning, logging, etc.) in all clusters. Since the choice of species can be a management decision in itself, if a cluster contains more than one managed patch, we allow for one of the patches to have a different species composition. In any case, the other properties, such as soil, climate etc., should still be as similar as possible.

Europe has multiple forest types. In order to make the database representative, we need to make sure that the major forest types are represented with a sufficient amount of clusters. To achieve this, five INFORMA core regions will be used for the Platform: the Woods of Brabant (Belgium, Atlantic forest), the Segre-Rialb Basin (Spain, Mediterranean forest), the Northern Karelia region (Finland, boreal forest), the Northern Limestone Alps (Austria, alpine forest) and the Râșca Forest District (Romania, continental forest).

All of these regions link to partners within the INFORMA project. These are local experts that help with the design of the Platform through 1) suggesting clusters to include in the Platform based on their expert knowledge of the region, 2) provisioning data that can be used to delineate the patches and perform analyses and 3) suggesting context-dependent variables to include in the analysis (for example, whether we should rather incorporate soil texture or soil depth in a specific region). In addition to these five regions, the Division Forest, Nature and Landscape (FNL) of KU Leuven will use its international contacts to expand the Platform into other European countries, thereby increasing its representativeness and quality.

The delineation of the patches happens in several steps. First, the WP2 members write a protocol, discussing in detail what the Platform should look like, as well as the minimum requirements for the patches and the clusters (e.g. size). In a second step, the local experts suggest several clusters in their region based on this protocol. Next, a session with WP2 members and the local experts is organized to discuss 1) whether the requirements have been met, 2) whether there have been obstacles and 3) whether there are more opportunities for finding additional clusters, or whether there are other things to consider. Once this has been resolved, we do a final checkup of the requirements based on existing databases and satellite imagery, and then delineate the final clusters to be included in the Platform. In a last phase, every patch in the database will be populated with site information derived from existing databases, as well as values indicating ecosystem service performance derived from satellite imagery, e.g. carbon sequestration and water-use efficiency.

Once the database has been populated and analyses have been done, it will finally be ready to be used in practice! For instance, the database can help guide policy-making: which ecosystem services require management and which do not? It can also be used by forest managers to determine whether and how they can optimize certain ecosystem functions in their forests. Furthermore, it can support scientists in further research, adding detailed and different analyses, field data campaigns etc.

Lastly, it can contribute to answering your very difficult question… what to do with your forest: to manage or not to manage? To find out the answers, stay tuned to the INFORMA website, where we will announce the launch of the Forest Management Platform in the course of the project.

Cyclones can help forests recover from dry spells, study finds

Although it might sound counter-intuitive, large-scale disturbances such as cyclones can also bring benefits to forests. This was documented by a study co-authored by INFORMA’s researcher Sebastiaan Luyssaert, from the Vrije University of Amsterdam. The study analysed the recovery of forests in East Asia after the passage of tropical cyclones using satellite-based images to measure forests’ leaf area.

The data showed that, sixty days after their passage, around 18% of the cyclones caused a decrease in leaf area, 28% brought no change while a surprising 34% led to an increase in leaf area. The latter occurred because, despite leaving behind a storm track, cyclones carried precipitation to forests, which helped them recover from dry spells.

The open-access study “Tropical cyclones facilitate recovery of forest leaf area from dry spells in East Asia”, authored by Luyssaert and Yi-Ying Chen, from the Research Center for Environmental Changes in Taipei, Taiwan, can be downloaded here.

Photo credit: Geoff Whalan/Flickr