SAFE – Sensitivity and Adaptation of Forests in Europe under Global Change

Background and Goals

The SAFE project is studying possible effects of global change on forests and forestry in Europe. The main objective of the project is to assess possible effects of global environmental changes on Europe's forests. This relates to the effects on growth and species composition of the forests, forest management and the forest economy, and the secondary forest functions.

The studies are being carried out on three different scales with different levels of detail. On a European scale, the studies are concentrating on regional changes in ecological factors and on assessing the potential development of natural and managed forests. On a national scale, the focus is on the sensitivity of existing forests and forestry in Germany to climate changes. On a regional scale, an integrated analysis and assessment of the ecological and socio-economic effects of climate change are being performed.

The following activities are being carried out:

  1. Development of an improved forest model for assessing ecological effects of global change, including a sub-model for forest management;
  2. Development a model for timber production and the socio-economic consequences;
  3. Establishment of a database for climate, climate change scenarios and current forest conditions;
  4. Model validation for the three geographical scales;
  5. Integrated assessment of effects for the forest sector at all levels.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany
  • Europe
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Baden-Württemberg
Natural spatial classification
  • North-East German lowland
  • South-Eeastern basin and hills

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

A basic scenario and a climate change scenario with a temperature increase of 1.5°C and 3.0°C are being used. These are based on the global climate models HadCM2 and ECHAM4.

Simulation models for forest development are being developed and applied. Model development is focused on the so-called "forest gap model" 4C (FORESEE - Forest Ecosystems in a Changing Environment). The existing FORSKA and FORCLIM models are being used for the sensitivity analyses and regional studies. Using the basic scenario, the FORSKA model simulates the potential natural vegetation (PNV), which is compared with a map of the PNV for Brandenburg. In conjunction with the SANA project (Atmospheric Clean-Up for the Former East Germany), the FORSANA growth model for pine forests has been extended and applied to various scenarios for air pollution and climate.

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Higher average temperatures

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

The climate effects for managed forests in the regional water and carbon cycle are being studied. In addition, the functions and services provided by the forests are being evaluated under global change. The effects of climate change and management on ecosystem services of carbon storage, biodiversity, water conservation and production, and leisure and recreation are being analysed.

Step 2b: Identify and assess risks - Vulnerability, risks and chances

Urgency and priorization of adaptation needs 

There are shortcomings in the transfer of scientific findings into practical recommendations for action.

In forestry, there is a need for sustainable ecosystem management to cope with global change. To ensure environmentally friendly forest management and forestry in the long term, improved instruments for predicting forest development are required. This is not just important for individual ecosystems but where possible in the context of entire landscapes, taking account of water and material balance studies.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Time horizon
  • 2036–2065


Project management 

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)



  • Landesforstanstalt Eberswalde (state institute of forestry);
  • Forest Research Station of Lower Saxony, Göttingen;
  • Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute (vTI), Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and Fisheries;
  • Technical University of Munich, Chair for Forest Yield Science;
  • Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) e. V.;


  • ETHZ, Mountain Forest Ecology, Switzerland;
  • University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Institute of Silviculture, Vienna;
  • Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development;
  • Canadian Forest Service, Integrative Climate Change Modelling , Edmonton, Alberta;
  • European Forest Institute, Joensuu;
  • Finnish Forest Research Institute, Vantaa;
  • University of Helsinki, Dept. of Forest Ecology;
  • University of Joensuu Faculty of Forestry;
  • Laboratoire d'Ecophysiologie végétale, Université de Paris-Sud XI, Orsay;
  • Alterra - Green World Research, Wageningen;
  • Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen;
  • Warsaw Agricultural University, Dept. of Silviculture Agreement on co-operation;
  • Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Centre de Recerca Ecològica i Aplicacions Forestals (CREAF); Lund University;
  • Climate Impacts Group, Plant Ecology, Department of Ecology Scientific information and Data Exchange;
  • Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, Uppsala, Department for Production Ecology;
  • Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, Birmensdorf;

PIK – Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
Telegraphenberg A 31
D-14473 Potsdam

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Fields of action:
 biological diversity  tourism industry  water regime and water management  woodland and forestry