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Climate change: science versus practice

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Scientific knowledge on climate change has always been an important source of information for policy makers. The amount of warming up, the rise of the waterlevels, the changes in ecosystems are all factors that need to be carefully researched and looked at. All this research has resulted in some important changes in forest and nature conservation and policies such as Natura 2000 (Europe’s largest network of nature areas).

Although change is happening at the policy side of the story, we still do not see much change in the actual practices of people managing the forests and ecosystems. It appears as if there is still a great mismatch between what scientist say about the effects of climate change and what forest managers do about it.

Forest managers, in contrary to scientists, seem much more sceptical about the possibility to actually do something about climate change. Climate change is still very abstract and even though people do see changes in their forests because of climate change, they still wonder how to adapt their normal management practices to it. Should they cut less trees? Should they try to keep certain species in certain places even though rises in temperatures may make this extremely difficult? Do they plant different trees? Overall, they struggle with translating the often big conclusions of climate scientists into practical recommendations. In the end, there are reservations about the usefullness and practical applicability of scientific knowledge.

But this does not mean that there is no room for improvement. The link between scientific knowledge and practice is not as politicised as for example the link between scientific knowledge and policy. Often, policy makers have to balance knowledge and a political agenda which makes the exchange between the two a political process. This is not the case between science and practice. There is a potential forĀ  experimentation and monitoring that allows forest managers to bring their expertise and input to the table. This means that the general role of science in the climate change debate becomes different and will be mixed with non scientific knowledge. But in the end, it will most likely have a far better impact on forest management practices and ultimately will lead to more sustainable and better adapted forest management.

See for more information: J. de Koning, et al. (2014) Managing climate change in conservation practice:an exploration of the scienceā€“management interface in beech forest management.