Canadian Forest Service Publications

Adapting sustainable forest management to climate change: a framework for assessing vulnerability and mainstreaming adaptation into decision making. 2012. Williamson, T.B.; Campagna, M.A.; Ogden, A.E. Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, Ottawa, Ontario. 29 p.

Year: 2012

Available from: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 34557

Language: English

CFS Availability: Order paper copy (free), PDF (download)


One of the consequences of climate change is that new kinds of information will be needed to support policy- and decision making. The vulnerability approach is an established methodology for providing information in a form that supports policy- and decision making in the context of adapting to climate change. For example, climate change is ubiquitous, so approaches to assessment are needed that simultaneously consider the breadth of impacts both on forests and on sustainable forest management objectives. In addition, the long growth cycles of trees mean that forest management is inherently a long-term undertaking. This, combined with the fact that Canada’s climate could change significantly in the next 100 years, means that a long-term view of climate change impacts is needed in order to make correct forest management decisions today. There is, however, uncertainty about future climate change impacts. Vulnerability assessments acknowledge and address uncertainty through a process of scenario construction. Typically, such a process results in multiple stories of the future, which are informed by a combination of science, modeling, and expert judgment. Climate change will have implications for the capacity of forest managers, forest management organizations, and forest management systems to adapt. Vulnerability approaches incorporate assessments of adaptive capacity. This document presents a framework for assessing the vulnerability of sustainable forest management in Canada to climate change and linking the results of vulnerability assessment to an adaptation process that is integrated into forest management decision making. The framework will enable Canadian forest managers to better understand the location, timing, and magnitude of potential climate change impacts on sustainable forest management objectives and their capacity to adapt to current and future impacts. The framework also describes a process for structured, adaptive management decision making in which information about sources of vulnerability is used to implement adaptation actions, the state of the system after adaptation is monitored, and vulnerabilities and adaptation requirements are regularly and systematically re-examined.

Plain Language Summary

This report, one in a series by Canadian Council of Forest Ministers’ Climate Change Task Force, sets out a framework for forest managers to use in conducting assessments of the vulnerability of sustainable forest management to climate change. Vulnerability assessment is an internationally recognized approach to evaluate the effects of climate change and link this knowledge to adaptation policies. The approach has six steps: provide context; describe current forest and climate conditions; develop scenarios of future conditions; assess the vulnerability of sustainable forest management to both current and future conditions; develop options for adaptation; and implement and “mainstream” these options by including them in day-to-day planning and operations. This approach helps forest managers better understand possible effects of climate change — when, where, and how large these effects may be. It can also help determine how well current management can adapt and make needed changes. The framework provides another tool that Canadian forest managers can use to help them incorporate climate change considerations into sustainable forest management policy and procedures.

Also available under the title:
Adapter l’aménagement forestier durable aux changements climatiques : cadre d’évaluation de la vulnérabilité et d’intégration des mesures d’adaptation dans le processus décisionnel. (French)

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