WHAT WE DID ABOUT IT IN 2019
We have established a working group to integrate the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure
(TCFD) into our risk assessment of climate change.
Sappi together with other forestry companies in South Africa, and with financial support from the Department of Science and
Technology's Forest Sector Innovation Fund, has initiated a detailed climate change mapping project with the Global Change
Institute (GCI) at the University of the Witwatersrand. This project will enable us to spatially map the risk across our entire land base,
and understand how it changes over decades.
In addition, we continued to:
- Adjust and direct our tree breeding strategy using modelled future climate data. This will help us to produce and select the most optimally suited hybrid varieties for each climatic zone
- Replace pure species with hybrids more suited to future climatic conditions to enhance security of supply
- Together with rapid understanding of the relative tolerance/susceptibility of our growing stock to new pests or disease, these
techniques are critical in successfully managing the viability of our woodfibre base
- Use of satellite imagery and drones to rapidly detect and respond to change
- Monitor soil – under hotter and drier climatic conditions, the importance of soil organic matter will increase because of its ability
to reduce soil temperature, and to increase the soil water infiltration rate and soil water holding capacity
- Implement an extensive fire protection strategy, as climate change raises the potential for fires.
Understanding climate risks
A preliminary climate change investigation conducted by Sappi Forests' scientists indicated that climate change is likely
to be larger in Southern Africa compared to the world average. The study indicated that maximum temperatures are
more likely to increase than minimum temperatures, especially during the spring and summer months. It is also likely
that spring rainfall will decrease, with more high-intensity rainfall in summer. The combined effect of higher temperatures
and lower rainfall in spring is likely to increase tree stress. This in-house study highlighted that simply understanding
changes to annual averages is not enough if we are to mitigate potential losses. Currently, the available climate
projections do not meet Sappi's needs for the following reasons:
- The time resolution is too infrequent – projections are typically for mid-century and end of century, whereas we need
something closer to decadal intervals
- The spatial resolution is too coarse – often regional, rather than plantation block specific.
The variables provided are too general – annual rainfall rather than its monthly distribution, mean temperatures rather
than the extremes, wind, humidity and other variables absent.
Accordingly, together with other forestry companies in South Africa and financial support from the Department of
Science and Technology Forest Sector Innovation Fund, Sappi has initiated a detailed climate change mapping project
with the Global Change Institute (GCI) at the University of the Witwatersrand. The GCI team is made up of South Africa's
leading climate change experts. The project entails two phases:
- Phase 1: 2020: Generation of raster climate surfaces for the entire forestry domain of South Africa, at 8 km
resolution, with monthly time resolution, for the years 2020, 2030, 2040 to 2100. The variables would include up to
20 important bioclimatic indicators as well as averages and information about their statistical distribution, such as
variances, confidence ranges and probabilities of exceedance
- Phase 2: 2021 onward: A second iteration of the variables generated for the one-year product, refining the indicators
or making them more specific for species or issues; and/or including more ensemble members or scenarios to
broaden the robustness of the evaluation; and/or 1 km data for selected parts of the country.
The regional climate modelling capacity established at Wits GCI can resolve all the needs of the industry, listed above.
Wits GCI runs the CCAM Global Climate Model, a state-of-the-art Global Circulation Model (GCM), fully coupled with
land and ocean. It can seamlessly use the same framework to incorporate the output of ensembles of other GCMs, and
downscale them for Southern Africa in a very robust way. Outputs can be generated at any time interval. The Southern
African downscalings already under way produce coverage at a fundamental resolution of 8 x 8 km over the entire
South African forestry domain, fine enough to be able to represent important local phenomena (like the escarpment) that
are invisible to GCMs. All primary climate variables are generated, so producing them as output tailored to the needs of
forest bioclimatology is relatively straightforward.
The Variable Resolution Earth System Model used for the regional downscalings can then be used a second time, to
generate projections with a resolution of as fine as 1 x 1 km, over an area of 200 x 200 km. This is a 'cloud-resolving'
scale, so it can capture the specificity of rainfall in relation to terrain and aspect. The process is computationally intensive,
so cannot immediately be applied to all the forest extent in South Africa, but over time key areas will be prioritised.