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Forests are seen as low-cost global climate mitigation solution, through carbon storage and sequestration, and are driving ambitious planting targets internationally and nationally as well as attracting investment from public and private actors.

The protection, restoration and sustainable management of forests are vital for providing environmental and societal benefits, and are key to sustainable development. In addition, forests play a significant role in reducing the risk of floods, landslides and other extreme events; they protect watersheds that supply freshwater and support biodiversity; they are also important for recreation, public engagement with the outdoors, and promotion of healthy lifestyles. Tree-planting is rapidly emerging as an important dimension of the Irish government’s climate action plan to attain net zero carbon status by 2050. The FOREST project is funded through the Kinsella Challenge-based E3 Multidisciplinary Project Awards as well as addition funding through philanthropic donation. It is using the case of forestry in Ireland as a model system to explore the challenges associated with addressing climate and biodiversity issues.

Nature is rarely straightforward and the type of trees, where they are planted, and how quickly they grow, affect their real ecological, economic and societal sustainability credentials. Afforestation has consequences for environment, people, and economies, but is often only assessed through a single lens. An understanding of different perspectives on the values of extending Ireland’s forests networks with native species and benefits of nature in the widest sense, is key, particularly in terms of impacting on individual and collective action.

FOREST will address challenges to society, nature and economies in an integrated way, and develop solutions that are socially just, ecologically sound and economically viable. Given the interdependencies between the economy, society and nature, it is crucial that this research is conducted across both the social sciences and natural sciences. FOREST brings together academics and PhD students across Botany, Economics, Engineering, Finance, Geography and Statistics to explore potential climate action projects such as restoration, afforestation, rewilding, offsetting and technologies in Ireland using multi-site case studies. The PhD students working on the project have unique opportunities to work with academics across multiple disciplines, allowing cross-fertilisation of theories, concepts and knowledge.

The project will explore questions such as what are the different perspectives on the value of nature and how can benefits such as eco-system services be measured and monitored? What ecological data are required before action is taken on a site - how do we measure ecological baselines? What are the trade-offs associated with actions (economically, environmentally, socially) - how do we measure them and what criteria can be used to evaluate trade-offs and inform decision making? What blended solutions, involving both nature and technology, are required, to tackle these challenges?

FOREST will contribute to positioning Trinity E3 as a leader in multi-disciplinary research and teaching, embedding these ways of working to tackle future research challenges. It will inform teaching on TCD courses such as the BSc in Environmental Science and Engineering, BAI/MAI Engineering, MSc Economic Policy, MSc Law and Finance, MSc Biodiversity and Conservation, MSc Environmental Engineering, MSc Sustainable Energy, and PG Diploma in Climate Action, creating graduates that will be uniquely equipped to address global challenges in a holistic, responsible and innovative manner.