Climate change & forestry sustainability on research radar

July 3, 2023
Sappi Research Chair launched at Wits (left to right) Dr Tracy Wessels (Sappi Ltd), Prof Mary Scholes (Wits) and Giovanni Sale (Sappi Forests).

Professor Mary Scholes is heading up a research initiative on climate change and plantation sustainability at Wits University, supported by Sappi …

Sappi Southern Africa and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) have established a Sappi Chair in Climate Change and Plantation Sustainability. This initiative aligns with Sappi’s drive to generate technical and operational solutions which mitigate against climate change risks and to enhance reporting on carbon emissions, climate change and sustainability.

Professor Mary Scholes, an internationally recognised authority on tree physiology and climate change and who is affiliated with the research platform in the Wits School of Animal, Plants and Environmental Sciences, will act as the Research Chair.

The work by Wits will help to enhance Sappi’s planning process and overall competitiveness.

“Because forestry is a long-term crop, the industry needs to know well in advance where to direct their resources and investment and needs the most accurate climate models to rely on,” says Prof Scholes.

She will identify critical research needs and develop research outputs related to climate change, which is one of the University’s eight research priorities. She will also lead the development of capacity to manipulate and interpret climate modelling data.

Speaking at the launch, Tracy Wessels, Sappi Group Head of Sustainability and Investor Relations, commented: “The creation of this Chair demonstrates Sappi’s commitment to building a thriving world through strong partnerships, supporting innovation and investing in future research capabilities.

“Like all other agricultural crops, the trees in the 399,996 hectares of land we own and lease are negatively impacted by climate change. While we practise climate-smart forestry and while our research teams have been hard at work developing drought resistant genotypes, the temperatures over the South African interior are projected to rise at about 1.5 to 2 times the global rate of temperature increase.

“In addition, there is increasing global pressure to account accurately for greenhouse gas emissions from forests, land and agriculture. Against this backdrop and in line with our commitment to UN SDG13: Climate Action, the need to develop climate solutions has intensified, which is why our sponsorship of the Sappi Chair in Climate Change and Plantation Sustainability makes sound business sense.”

Sappi’s initial sponsorship of the Research Chair will run until 2026.

Sappi’s association with Wits is not new: In 2020, Sappi began working on a project with other industry members and the Wits Global Change Institute on a project which involved the generation of raster climate surfaces for the entire forestry domain of South Africa, at a resolution of eight kilometres, with monthly time resolution, for the years 2020, 2030 and 2040 to 2100.

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