HiddenCosts: Hidden costs of implementing afforestation as a climate mitigation strategy: A comprehensive assessment of direct and indirect impacts

Until now, we have learned that planting trees could only provide benefits to our nature and society. More and more recent research results show that this depends on land management. The role of new forests in mitigating and managing climate change has been recognized since the early policy discussions from the carbon uptake by trees. In Norway, extensive planting of trees in open landscapes has been suggested for a while as an important policy measure and as a result this method is considered the 4th most viable method in the suggested climate mitigation plan. The effects and merits of afforestation have been highly debated both in the scientific community and in the public as the impact assessments have not yet moved beyond simple back-of-the-envelope calculation of carbon binding capacity by aboveground biomass. HiddenCosts is based on the realization that the current policy for afforestation as a climate mitigation strategy is based on incomplete knowledge and needs more rigorous evaluation in the full range of direct and indirect effects and costs vs. the realistic alternative landscape management scenarios. It is of vital importance that the full costs and benefits of afforestation vs. these realistic alternative management scenarios are rigorously assessed. Such an assessment is also time-sensitive due to the ongoing pilot projects. We will apply a multidisciplinary approach by 1) integrating Earth System and regional climate modeling, 2) in situ observations of biodiversity, ecosystem structure, and carbon storage, and 3) public valuation and ecosystem services analysis to gain more holistic understanding of the effects (both costs and benefits) of afforestation, continued management, and natural succession in the open lowland landscapes of Norway. We also plan to combine information gained from the project research topics to synthesize and communicate effectively with relevant stakeholders and the public to find a better way of land management.