Glasgow City Region pioneering forest economy innovation to drive climate action

In The News

13 May 2022

The largest area of ​​the city is the Green Green Deal, the Clyde Climate Forest and the Climate Ready Clyde. These activities are now being reinforced by another innovative project. Glasgow City Region has recently launched a regional initiative under the Climate Smart Forest Economy Program.

The Climate Smart Forest Economy Program (CSFEP) is a joint initiative of the EIT Climate-KIC, the World Economic Forum, and the World Resources Institute, with seed funding from the Good Energies Foundation. It also counts on an independent scientific council from the Nature Conservancy, and support from Dalberg Catalyst. Its overarching goal is to unlock the full climate potential of forests and forest products in a sustainable and responsible manner. The program aims to increase the use of climate-friendly forest products by meeting social and ecological safeguards. “Ensuring all forest economies are a smart climate can protect, maintain, manage, restore, and regrow forests, while assigning greater value to forests, creating further incentives for restoration and reforestation”.

The ambitious plan for the Glasgow City Region

The Glasgow City Region (GCR) covers a third of Scotland, both by population and economic output. Glasgow City Council is committed to becoming carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030, working in partnership across the entire region. The “Glasgow Green Deal”, which sets out a new direction that combines economic prosperity and jobs with the actions needed to tackle the climate crisis. It seeks to rewire economic, social and political systems and institutions to design carbon emissions and climate vulnerability, and design in strong social foundations, equity and fairness. Building on the ambitions of the Glasgow Green Deal, the eight local authorities in the GCR have also committed to a common regional economy.

At the national level, Scotland has set ambitious targets for woodland creation, recognizing the important role forests play in tackling climate change. Locally, in the Glasgow City Region, the Clyde Climate Forest has pledged to children ten trees for every resident over the next decade (18 million trees). However, at a national level, the woodland creation has been largely framed as a carbon sink opportunity rather than a way to promote carbon storage in forest products or the substitution of high carbon footprint materials with wood-based products. Woodland creation remains largely detached from the fuller wood value chain.

Transformative vision setting and intent

As part of the Climate Smart Forest Economy Program, EIT Climate-KIC is working with the Glasgow City Region to develop a holistic approach to unlocking the full climate and economic potential of forests, forest production and wood value chains.

One of the first steps in the transformation process was a visioning exercise. Visioning is about imagining the future and describing what it might look like. This imaginative exercise is essential to plan the future. A vision is not a daydream in which the ideal but unrealistic and impossible future is described. Instead, a vision should be credible, practical, and feasible enough to be useful, to set direction and generate a buy-in to achieve it. At the same time, it should be based on a radical idea.

Participants of the visioning exercise were asked: what do we need for GCR and what is required to achieve it? Participants were encouraged to look at the world as a complex system, and to develop a set of interventions that together would shift the system to a more desirable state. The vision statement below outlines what the vision would look like for Glasgow City Region. Clearly, the CSFE could bring:

“A GCR Climate Smart Forest Economy (CSFE) would make use of the Scottish timber technologies sector by producing and sustaining the use of sustainable forest products. It would make a significant contribution to the mission of the Glasgow Green Deal to create equitable, net zero carbon, climate-resilient living by 2030 by increasing carbon sequestration, storage, and substitution through timber. In line with the City Region’s new Economic Strategy, the CSFE would enhance productivity and green investment by creating and investing in rural and urban low carbon jobs and enterprises, urban regeneration, and significantly strengthens and diversifies the region’s timber-based manufacturing industry. ”

Quantifying the carbon and economic potential of the CSFE

Local authorities are responsible for a range of local development objectives. The pace of change that society must go through can be challenging and requires long-term and intergenerational thinking. Most local governments are not equipped to handle this.

Mapping and quantifying the whole of the CSFE’s potential (ecological, social, and economic impacts) allows local authorities to place it alongside other policy priorities. It also shows the full value chain transformation envisioned by a CSFE. A baseline (ie, the situation as it is now)

In the GCR, carbon potential was quantified by modifying the existing carbon sequestration impacts on three different scales: GCR, the Central Belt, and Scotland as a whole. The work also modeled the carbon footprint of construction materials to estimate the potential for production at each of the three spatial scales, using cross-laminated timber (CLT) as an example. This involved estimating the carbon footprint (ie, savings) that could be achieved by substituting products in the building sector and demonstrating the additional carbon benefit of using the new woodland area beyond passive carbon sequestration.

The impacts have also been compared to the economic and social policy priorities of the Green Deal, specifically, ensuring a better economy, supporting regeneration, improving infrastructure performance and reliability, improving economic and business competitiveness, increasing inward investment, and creating jobs.

Co-designing its portfolio of value chain interventions

A shift from single-point solutions to portfolios of interventions is essential to unlock the transformation outlined in the vision. The systemic transformation is only feasible with a portfolio of integrated and coordinated interventions working along whole value chains. Local authorities are well placed to drive the development of this portfolio, as they have overall responsibility for area-based emissions reduction, adaptation and economic development.

Identifying this set of interventions first requires us to understand the system in question (in this case, the wood value chain) and the full spectrum of challenges and opportunities at play. There are several actors along the wood value chain, from forest managers, sawmill processors, building contractors, to housing developers and landowners. Each of these stakeholders brings a unique perspective on how the current system works, and the barriers to transformation

To co-design the portfolio of value chains, the Glasgow City Region . Over 35 value chain actors were then engaged in a co-design process (a workshop and a series of one-on-one discussions) to identify the interventions that have the potential to address these systems challenges and collectively transform the wood value chain.

This has helped identify a series of approximately 10 interventions (see diagram below), such as increasing forest diversity, reducing public and industry perceptions of wood quality and safety, rethinking public procurement to create market demand, and scaling innovation in construction. What has emerged is that the public sector’s market-shaping interventions (in orange) extend to almost all aspects of the value chain, for instance through the provision of skills training, standards, and investment.

Moving from systems thinking to operating systems

Understanding the system is one thing, but addressing the emergency climate, and delivering transformation, in time (ie, mobilizing the scale of investment, innovation and stakeholder support) requires further action. Although more organizations and funders are engaging with and advocating for systems thinking, the challenge of systems action remains.

EIT Climate-KIC and the Glasgow City Region applying systems thinking to identify the path of the forest to the role of forests in meeting the region net-zero ambitions, supporting jobs and businesses. Together, they identified five market-shaping public sector activities:

  • Stimulating demand through best practices and procurement.
  • Skills development and training along the supply chain.
  • Support of SME’s and supply chain investment
  • Building specifications and standards
  • System-based planning across the entire supply chain

During the next stage of this project, stakeholders will work together on creating a supportive, sustainable market for local CSFE. A particular focus will be on creating an enabling environment for increased investment along the value chain (eg, funding opportunities and governance structures for the interventions). The ongoing consolidation of the region’s support and direction in shaping a local CSFE is at the core of the project.

For more information about the CSFEP and the GCR initiative, contact Ellie Tonks at [email protected] or visit the website at

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