JORI RINGMAN, DIRECTOR GENERAL, CEPI
We know a lot about European forests, from the composition of different tree species to changes in forest land areas, carbon stock, and sink dynamics. For this, we can thank regular forest inventories that take advantage of advanced digital tools such as satellite imaging, drones, aerial laser scanning, and even mobile phones through geo-located photographs, combined with artificial intelligence (AI). Enriching this data with meteorological data or sensors assessing soil parameters, such as salinity, adds additional value.
This information is laid out on digital maps and data platforms to optimize silviculture (the art and science of growing trees) and to ensure its sustainability and resilience. This is the case, for example, when this information is used to assess biodiversity or for planning and implementing forest management activities.
DATA TO SUPPORT RESILIENCE
A good example of the use of forest data is protecting the European forests against forest fires. The risk of forest fires is assessed by using forest inventory data, together with geographic information systems and other location-based statistics, such as tree growth in the area, records of forest fire history, and weather data. This way, investing in resilient forest management pays dividends in the form of increased safety of citizens and their property.
Another prime example of building a more resilient society with forest data comes from Arbonaut, a forest inventory and natural resource management company that helps electricity transmission companies and railway operators ensure continuous operation. By using light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology and advanced algorithms, trees and other large objects that could obstruct power lines and railways are identified and can be removed before problems arise, based on the urgency of their clearance.
Using a smartphone and AI, forest inventory data turns to easy-to-use and accurate tools for forest owners in assessing the value and growth of their forests. Paper companies like Metsä Group have developed virtual reality applications that allow users to visit the forest and plan forest management from the comfort of their own living rooms—something that millions of urban owners of very small and often remote forests will appreciate. Call it a digital twin of forests, if you will. Virtual forests make it possible to visualize and assess alternative forest management options and their impact on income, for example.
THE WAY FORWARD
Big Data, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are not just buzzwords in the paper industry. They are already employed for deepening the insight into forest ecosystems, providing tools for decision making and improving forest management practices, all while building economic and societal resilience.
Jori Ringman is director general at Cepi, the European forest, fiber, and paper industry association (cepi.org). This is the final installment of a three-part series on the links between digitalization and sustainability.
Forests in Europe are growing and so is the stock of CO2 in forests: the equivalent of all CO2 emissions of all European vehicles is equal to only 0.3 percent of the CO2 stored in European forests. There is significant potential in the substitution of fossil-intensive products and materials by wood-based products. Already, the substitution effect is equal to the European forest sink and, combined, their positive net effect mitigates -806 million tons of CO2 equivalent—as much as 20 percent of the total CO2 emissions of the EU economy.
Forests in Europe are certified for sustainable forest management: 73 percent of wood and 90 percent of market pulp comes from forest management certified sources. Sixty percent of European forests are privately owned, and two-thirds of those consist of small holdings of less than three hectares. The forest owners increasingly live in cities, far from the forest, and depend on smart and digital services to manage their forest sustainably.