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TRANZFOR programme (2009-2012) - Transferring Research between EU and Australia-New Zealand on Forestry and Climate Change

Objectives and relevance of the joint research exchange programme

Quality of the Exchange Programme

The project aims at strengthening research partnerships through staff exchanges, networking and dissemination activities between 3 European research organisations and 2 organisations from Australia and New Zealand, countries with which the Community has an S&T agreement.

TRANZFOR addresses scientific issues related to “forestry and climate change”. It is based on a 4 year joint programme of exchange of 75 staff members for periods ranging from 2 to 12 months, thus providing unique mobility possibilities to individual researchers and support to 5 research organisations to reinforce their long-term research co-operation within a coherent framework.

The programme has been developed on the basis of active bilateral cooperation between individual countries and partners which has occurred in the past decade. The IRSES scheme provides a unique opportunity to integrate those past collaboration activities into a more comprehensive and long term joint programme addressing an issue of high priority on the political agendas of the EU, New Zealand and Australia.

Rapid climatic change is a contemporary reality and one of the greatest challenge we face in its potential impact on our societies and in the scale of international cooperation that is needed to confront it. Emerging as a component of the international dialogue on the environment and climate, the major role of forests and forestry in influencing Earth systems is becoming clear. For European forests which represent 30% of the land cover, “climate change is the key environmental driver, calling for novel silvicultural approaches that help adapt to changes and new management strategies and regimes taking into account the various risks.” There is an urgent need to better understand how forests interact with their environment and with human societies as climate changes, how forests can be managed to contribute to the mitigation of climate change and to maximise their full range of economic and non-market benefits.

New Zealand and Australia have also developed a major focus on climate change research in the past 3 years in response to International agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol and as part of national responses to the threat of climate change. Forests are seen as a core mitigation tool to address enhanced atmospheric CO2 levels and also as a land use which needs very significant focus in terms of potential adaptation strategies. Australasian forests cover 172.4 million hectares (21% of land-use in Australia and 30 % in New Zealand) and represent ~4% of global forested land. These forests are central to many of the products and services upon which Australian and New Zealand society depends including biodiversity, carbon storage, clean water as well as wood and other derived products. Whatever affects the survival, growth and functioning of forests will also affect these ‘down stream’ outcomes. In the future, climatic and atmospheric change will have a profound, and uncertain, impact on forest functioning and hence these outcomes. Politically New Zealand is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050, and the New Zealand Government announced a major policy initiative in this area in late 2007. This was supported by a major investment in emissions trading approaches, mitigation and, adaptation and these investments are backed by significant new and forward looking research programmes. Additionally NZ is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and has developed a Land Use and Carbon Accounting System (LUCAS). Forestry is a core component of New Zealand’s Kyoto obligations and longer term climate change responses. Scientific challenges lie in the development of new carbon forests, forests for bioenergy production, and modelling the responses of existing and new forest systems to climate change to allow development of adaptation strategies.

The unique nature of the Australian continent in terms of climate severity/variability, soils, and biodiversity makes its natural and managed ecosystems particularly vulnerable to climate change. The significance of climate change to Australia’s future is underscored by the Federal Government’s recent signing of the Kyoto Protocol in early 2008 and move to introduce a national emissions trading scheme by 2010. The Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) has developed a carbon accounting system, and national research priorities are in place to address the role of forests as mitigation tools and to model their responses to change to allow adaptation strategies to be developed. Scientific challenges are similar to New Zealand in terms of understanding forest systems and their responses to climate change impacts.

Description of the scientific programme and exchange scheme: The project is focused on forestry and climate change interactions, including assessment of impacts of climate change on forest ecosystem functioning and development of adaptation and mitigation strategies for forest management. The five partner countries involved in TRANZFOR share key tree species of common interest and a range of similar biogeographic conditions in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere from Mediterranean to temperate. The strategic importance of managed and planted forests for wood and fibre production is also common to the 5 partner countries involved, and will provide an extremely relevant and coherent framework and socio-economic background for the different research activities that will be conducted in TRANZFOR, facilitating dissemination to the forest-based sector and other stakeholders.

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