This paper presents the results of a modelling study of future net annual increment changes in stemwood of European forests owing to climate change. Seven process-based growth models were applied to 14 representative forest sites across Europe under one climate change scenario. The chosen scenario was the HadCM2 run, based on emission scenario IS92a, and resulted in an increase in mean temperature of 2.5 °C between 1990 and 2050, and an increase in annual precipitation of 5–15%. The information from those runs was incorporated in a transient way in a large-scale forest resource scenario model, EFISCEN (European forest information scenario). European scale forest resource projections were made for 28 countries covering 131.7 million ha of forest under two management scenarios for the period until 2050.
The results showed that net annual increments in stemwood of European forests under climate change will further increase with an additional 0.9 m3 ha−1 y−1 in 2030 compared to the ongoing increase under a current climate scenario, i.e. an extra 18% increase. After 2030 the extra increment increase is reduced to 0.79 m3 ha−1 y−1 in 2050. Under climate change, absolute net annual increments will increase from the present 4.95, on average for Europe, to 5.93 m3 ha−1 y−1 in 2025. After 2025, increments in all scenarios start to decline owing to ageing of the forest and the high growing stocks being reached.
The results of the present study are surrounded by large uncertainties. These uncertainties are caused by unknown emissions in the future, unknown extent of climate change, uncertainty in process-based models, uncertainty in inventory data, and uncertainty in inventory projection. Although the results are thus not conclusive, climate change may lead to extra felling opportunities in European forests of 87 million m3y−1. Because Europe's forests are intensively managed already, management may adapt to climate change relatively easily. However, this study also indicates that climate change may lead to a faster build-up of growing stocks. That may create a less stable forest resource in terms of risks to storm damage.