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SEEFOR 6 (2): 219-235
Article ID: 83
DOI:  http://dx.doi.org/10.15177/seefor.15-20

Original scientific paper


Social and Policy Aspects of Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Forests of Belgrade

Ivana Živojinović 1*, Bernhard Wolfslehner 1, Jelena Tomićević-Dubljević 2

1 The European Forest Institute Central-East and South-East European Regional Office (EFICEEC-EFISEE), c/o University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Feistmantelstr. 4, A-1180 Vienna, Austria
2 University of Belgrade, Faculty of Forestry, Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, Kneza Višeslava 1, RS-11000 Belgrade, Serbia

* Corresponding author: e-mail: 

ŽIVOJINOVIĆ I, WOLFSLEHNER B, TOMIĆEVIĆ-DUBLJEVIĆ J 2015 Social and Policy Aspects of Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Forests of Belgrade. South-east Eur for 6 (2): 219-235. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15177/seefor.15-20

Received: 22 Jul 2015 / Accepted: 30 Sep 2015 / Published online: 15 Oct 2015

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Background and Purpose: Climate change has an impact on economic and natural systems as well as human health. These impacts are particularly visible in urbanised areas. Urban forests, which are one of the main natural features of the cities, are threatened by climate change. Generally, the role of forests in combating climate change is widely recognised and its significance is recognised also in urban areas. However, appropriate responses to climate change are usually lacking in their management. Climate change adaptation in relation to urban forests has been studied less often in comparison to climate change mitigation. Adaptive capacity of forests to climate change consists of adaptive capacity of forests as an ecological system and adaptive capacity of related socio-economic factors. The latter determines the capacity of a system and its actors to implement planned actions. This paper studies social and policy aspects of adaptation processes in urban forests of Belgrade.
Materials and Methods: For the purpose of this study content analysis of urban forest policy and management documents was applied. Furthermore, in-depth interviews with urban forest managers and Q-methodology surveys with urban forestry stakeholders were conducted. Triangulation of these data is used to assure validity of results.
Results: The results show weak integration of climate change issues in urban forest policy and management documents, as well as weak responses by managers. A comprehensive and systematic approach to this challenge does not exist. Three perspectives towards climate change are distinguished: (I) ‘sceptics’ - do not perceive climate change as a challenge, (II) ‘general-awareness perspective’ - aware of climate change issues but without concrete concerns toward urban forests, (III) ‘management-oriented perspective’ - highlights specific challenges related to urban forest management. Awareness of urban forest managers and stakeholders towards climate change adaptation is characterized by assumptions and uncertainties, which are the result of poor knowledge, lack of data of local impacts and weak communication.
Conclusions: The results indicate the need for building urban forestry institutional and human capacities for creating effective climate change adaptation responses, which will lead to better understanding of challenges posed by climate change and ability to make the trade-offs between possible decisions.

Keywords: awareness, urban forest management, climate communication, adaptation measures, institutional and human capacity, Serbia


In the last century the global urban population has increased rapidly from 746 million in 1950 to over 3.9 billion in 2014 [1]. In Europe, 73% of the population lives in urban areas [1]. Population growth, together with technological development and increased consumption levels, has increased the pressure on urban centres, its natural resources and ecological systems [2]. Climate change is a major challenge today’s society needs to cope with, especially as it has been proven that human activities have been the dominant cause of it [3]. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed the important role of cities in the development and delivery of climate change responses, as cities are in many ways affected by climate change and are a focal point of vulnerability, as their functioning relies on complex infrastructures [3], [4]. Urban forests are part of a green infrastructure which is one element that can contribute to climate change adaptation in cities [5]. However, the role of cities [3] and its green infrastructure is still marginally studied in relation to variety of issues related to climate change. So far mitigation actions have been supported by a wide range of policies in various sectors [6], while adaptation has only become prominent lately.

‘Urban forests’ in this paper implies all forests and other tree-based green areas (e.g. parks, tree alleys) that are situated within the administrative border of a city [7], [8]. Urban forests contribute to mitigating climate change in many ways: by controlling greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions, the shading effect on buildings (reduces energy use and carbon emissions), by regulating the urban microclimate (reducing albedo, providing shade and cover) and the hydrological regime of cities [9], [10], [11]. At the same time, urban forests are becoming highly threatened by climate change [4]. Assessing the vulnerability of urban forestry systems is essential for adaptation processes and their long-term sustainable development [5]. Adaptation mainly is a matter of local importance [12], [13] and promotes the implementation of measures which are useful in the present, and at the same time reduce the risk of unacceptable losses in the future [13], [14]. FAO [15] sees adaptive forest management as an essential for addressing arising challenges and reducing forest vulnerability. In adaptive management various measures can be included: selection of drought-tolerant or pest-resistant species, use of stock from a range of provenances, assisting natural regeneration of functional species, and measures targeted to individual requirements of single species [14]. FAO [15], [16], [17]. All of these measures need to be adapted to site specific forest conditions [15].

Adaptive capacity of urban forests comprises adaptive capacity of forests as ecological systems and adaptive capacity of socio-economic factors of urban forestry. Adaptive capacity of socio-economic factors determines the capability of systems and its actors to implement planned actions. “Adaptive organizations that incorporate organizational learning enhance social capital through internal and external linkages, partnerships, and networks, and make room for innovation and multi-directional information flow” are needed nowadays [7, p6]. Effective urban forest management with regard to climate change must be responsive to a wide variety of economic, social, political and environmental circumstances [13]. Thus, effective communication on climate change is very important [18]. Developing a dialogue within and out of the urban forest management community is essential, and will increase the range of possible actions [13]. It is recognised that climate change ultimately requires a national response, and that much more attention must be given to how decisions are made [19] and how decision-makers value expected risks and benefits [20]. Planning for climate adaptation requires comparison of decision options, and these should be based on relevant scientific results which are effectively communicated and perceived [20]. Perception is recognised as an active process of understanding, through which people construct their own version of reality [19] and therefore influences decisions.

Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and has faced enlargement and an intensive urbanisation process in the last decades, mainly at the expense of green areas [21]. In the last 50 years, an increase in mean annual temperature has been observed in all parts of Belgrade (up to 0.04 °C/yr), as well as for precipitation (up to 1.7 mm/yr) [22], which demonstrate a demand for climate change adaptation strategies in all sectors (including urban forestry) in Belgrade [23]. The protection of existing and the planning of new urban forests, as well as creation of responses to climate change, is identified as need by city administration [24].

This paper focuses primarily on social and policy aspects of adaptation processes in urban forestry in Belgrade. By applying mixed methods research, it aims to understand: (i) current climate change adaptation practices in urban forest management of Belgrade, and (ii) perceptions of various urban forestry stakeholders toward the issue. Following research questions are addressed: 1) to what degree do urban forest management plans integrate climate change adaptation measures?; 2) how do urban forest related policy documents take climate change in consideration?; 3) and what are the perceptions of urban forestry stakeholders regarding climate change adaptation in urban forestry of Belgrade?



In this research following methods were applied: content analysis of relevant policy and management documents, in-depth interviews and Q-methodology surveys. Triangulation of the data is used to assure the validity of results, and to control possible weaknesses and biases. For the purpose of this research a case study approach has been implemented [25], with urban forests of the city of Belgrade as a selected case.

Analysis of Documents

Urban forest related policy and management documents (Table 1) are analysed by content analysis [26]. Searched aspects were: (i) the contribution of urban forests to mitigating/adapting to climate change; (ii) the vulnerability of urban forests to climate change; (iii) climate change impacts on urban forests and (iv) climate change adaptation measures considered as important for urban forests management. It is analysed whether these aspects appear directly or indirectly in the documents and how detailed they are presented.

TABLE 1. Aspects related to climate change from analysed urban forest management and policy documents

+ directly addressed; +/- indirectly addressed; - missing

In-Depth Interviews

In-depth interviews were conducted with six urban forestry managers of two main management bodies in Belgrade. Two interviews were conducted with the heads of the management units and other four  in-terviewees were chosen with the snowball technique. The selection criterion was that all were in charge of developing management plans for forests in Belgrade. The interviews were conducted in May 2012, with an average length of 45 minutes. All interviews started with the question whether the managers were confronted with climate change in their work, and how important this issue was to them. The next question raised issues of communication and policy-making and led into specific details of climate change adaptation of urban forests. In the end, main challenges for adaptation processes in urban forests were stressed.


The aim of the Q-methodology is to analyse subjectivity in a statistically interpretable form [27]. In this research, the Q-methodology surveys were used to extract stakeholders’ individual perceptions [28] of climate change adaptation in urban forests of Belgrade, and to differentiate which aspects of adaptation processes are seen as the most important.

They were addressed to a variety of urban forestry stakeholders (urban forest managers, employees in ministries, research organisations, NGOs, etc.), including those targeted in the in-depth interviews. In total 23 respondents from 14 organizations were interviewed (five at local, eight at national and two at regional level). 20 of the Q-surveys were conducted face to face in June 2012, with an average length of 50 minutes. Three additional Q-surveys were completed through an on-line application of the Q-methodology by using Q-Assessor.

The application of the Q-methodology implied formulating statements about climate change adaptation in urban forests based on the in-depth interviews and literature review. After the test phase, a concourse of 48 statements was created. The Q-surveys consisted of respondents sorting 48 statements, based on their subjective point of view, along a scale of +4 (strongly agree) to -4 (strongly disagree) using provided score sheets. The results of these 23 Q-sorts were then analysed using PQMethod 2.33 factor analysis software (available at: http://schmolck.userweb.mwn.de/qmethod/). As a result shared perspectives are identified and described. Each Q-survey was complemented by a brief follow-up interview, revealing why respondents have agreed/disagreed the most with certain statements [29].

Case Study Description

Research Area: Urban Forests of the City of Belgrade

Belgrade is the biggest city in the Republic of Serbia by area (3,222 km2) [30] and population (1.66 million) [31]. In the period from 1948–2002 the total population of Belgrade has increased by 2.5 times [30], [31], [32], which was followed by significant enlargement of the city [18]. Urbanization has had a major impact on the green areas, many forests had to be cut-down and very little has been done to prevent this situation [33], [34].

Belgrade has in total 35,980.00 ha of forests in the administrative area. The Public Enterprise (PE) ‘Serbia Forests’ manages 32,322.70 ha of forests, while the Public Utility Company (PUC) ‘Greenery Belgrade’ manages 610.75 ha of forests and 2,900 ha of other green areas. These two management organizations are the most important at the city level. Other forests are managed by other organizations (water management companies, military, agricultural organizations, churches) according to 10-year management plan approved by the Ministry [33]. Urban forests of Belgrade are mostly small in size, fragmented and scattered [24]. Deciduous tree species prevail (96.2%) [33]. General assessment of the forests in Belgrade shows unfavorable conditions of forests, and the main management goals identified are the conversion of coppice forests into high forests, timely and adequate maintenance of artificially established stands, increasing the share of autochthonous species, and responding to upcoming challenges (e.g. climate change) [24].

Background Information on Climate Change Policy in Serbia

The assessment of climate change for Serbia by a regional climate model shows that annual temperature is expected to rise from 0.8-1.1°C (according to A1B scenario) to 3.4-3.8°C (A2 scenario) per decade [23]. Precipitation is projected to decrease by 1% each decade, which will be followed by a decrease in the number of days with snow cover [35].

In 2001 Serbia became Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and in 2008 it ratified the Kyoto Protocol [23], thus focusing mainly on mitigation activities. So far, no climate change adaptation strategy has been developed at any level.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection is a national coordination body for the realisation of the UNFCCC convention. In collaboration with other ministries and governmental bodies (e.g. Republic Hydrometeorological Service, EU Integration Office), Serbia formed a working group for fulfilling obligations ratified by the UNFCCC. The Initial National Communication (INC) to UNFCCC represents one output of this working group and is the first state-of-the-art report in the field of climate change at national level [23].

The development of the INC indicated several obstacles for the effective identification and implementation of climate change adaptation measures. The main problems identified were: (i) a lack of systematic data collection and databases, (ii) a deficient structure of the sector and (iii) a lack of financial and technological capacities. The main goal of the state therefore is to build new and strengthen existing capacities of experts who are involved in (sectoral) policy-making in relation to climate change and the development of the National Action Plan for Adaptation [23].



Climate Change Adaptation Aspects in Urban Forest Policy Documents

Urban forest management in Belgrade is influenced by various national and local policy documents. Content analysis of these policy documents demonstrated week integration of climate change aspects. Climate change mitigation aspects are more prominent compared to adaptation (Table 1).

Of all analysed documents, the Spatial Plan of the Republic of Serbia (2010) is the most advanced in terms of the integration of climate change issues. A specific chapter focuses on climate change effects in various sectors (e.g. forestry, nature protection) and identifies main problems:

  1. “Climate data and information used in the planning are developed with application of standard methods and guidelines based on stationarity of climate;
  2. Low awareness of the need to include climate change as a factor of sustainable development into sectoral strategies, particularly sectors vulnerable to climate change (agriculture, water management, forestry, energy, tourism, health, construction, transportation);
  3. Lack of adequate support for the implementation of multidisciplinary research programs on climate change, vulnerability and adaptation options;
  4. Lack of a special state program for solving problems of climate change;
  5. Limited funds for capacity building (institutional and individual), education, training” [36].

According to the latest Spatial Plan (2010), existing lower level urban planning documents (e.g. Regional Spatial Plan for the Administrative Territory of the City of Belgrade [37] and Master Plan of Belgrade [38]) still require adjustments related to climate change.

The analysed forestry-related policy documents (e.g. Law on Forests [39], Forest Development Strategy [40] and Afforestation Strategy of Belgrade [24]) have generally been harmonised with various international regulations, including climate change regulations. However, content analysis revealed that climate change issues are weakly integrated and mainly appear as general and indirect statements throughout the documents. The Afforestation Strategy of Belgrade (2011) has been the most advanced, primarily by integrating climate change mitigation aspects [24], while the Forest Development Strategy (2006) only briefly introduces these aspects.

Other documents (National Sustainable Development Strategy [41], Development Strategy of Belgrade [42] and Tourism Development Strategy of Belgrade [43]) recognise climate change as a future challenge and call for development of thoughtful approaches. The National Sustainable Development Strategy identifies the main problems in this regard (Table 1).

Climate Change Adaptation Aspects in Urban Forest Management Plans

Four analysed urban forest management plans (UFMPs) were developed for different forest areas (municipalities) and urban forest types (urban and peri-urban forests), managed by PE “Serbia Forests” or PUC “Greenery Belgrade”. In all four UFMPs climate change mitigation and adaptation aspects were not directly covered and related terms were not used1. Implications could only be found in the description of general aims of forest management, such as “forests have an important role in improving climatic conditions” or “forests have positive impacts on the environment”. Parts of the UFMPs describing climate conditions in Belgrade are abundant with information of all climate parameters (e.g. annual average air temperature, minimal/maximal annual temperature/precipitation), but future impacts of climate change are not mentioned (Table 1).

1 we use following terms in Serbian: klimatske promene (climate change), ublažavanje klimatskih promena (climate change mitigation), prilagođavanje klimatskim promenama (climate change adaptation), osetljivost/ranjivost na klimatske promene (vulnerability to climate change), uticaj klimatskih promena (impact of climate change)


Urban Forest Stakeholders’ Perception towards Climate Change Adaptation

The results obtained by the in-depth interviews and Q-methodology offer insights into the current state of urban forest management and policy regarding climate change. We therefore interlink the findings from both sources of information, as they complement and explain each other (detailed findings from each method are presented in Table 2 and 3).

TABLE 2. List of statements used in Q-methodology with normalized factor scores for each statement and perspective [29]

TABLE 3. Summary of main aspects revealed through in-depth interviews

The application of the Q-methodology in this study revealed three shared perspectives regarding climate change adaptation in urban forests, which are named: ‘sceptics’, ‘management-oriented perspective’ and ‘general-awareness perspective’ [29].

‘Sceptics’ do no perceive climate change as a challenge. They hold the opinion that climate variations are normal and that there is a lack of data and evidence on existing change at the local level. This perspective reveals a very low level of awareness and communication regarding climate change, both inside and between various urban forestry organisations. Moreover, sceptics are of an opinion that urban forests will naturally adjust to future climate variability. They perceive other problems as more important (e.g. economic crises, governance issues, lack of information and technical assistance). However, it can be said that this perception is not so rigid, as more scientific evidence regarding climate change impact and information would be needed for this group to change opinion (follow-up interviews).

The two other perspectives are aware of challenges posed by climate change, and both selected statements regarding importance of education, public awareness, individual and collective actions in tackling climate change as important. However, they are also revealing different standpoints.

The ‘management-oriented perspective’ is aware of concrete needs related to improvement of urban forest management in the light of climate change (e.g. introduction of monitoring and modeling tools, obtaining more funds for research, improving legislation). The in-depth interviews revealed that urban forests vulnerability to climate change was noticed in the last ten years in practice (Table 3), but was not addressed in management plans. Vulnerabilities are seen through: (i) lower physiological state of trees due to frequent droughts/water stress, (ii) more frequent weather accidents, (iii) changes in forest structure, (iv) changes in forest increment. In social terms, vulnerability is seen through higher use and changed demands toward forests, while in economic terms vulnerability is expected by increased costs of maintenance and introduction of measures related to climate change. The concept of green infrastructure (e.g. forests, parks, green corridors) is identified as important regarding the climate change by some managers, who are trying to introduce this concept into city planning and thus secure higher visibility and importance of urban forests from other sectors (in-depth interview).

The ‘general-awareness perspective’ values statements which highlight general challenges to climate change as the most important, such as the need for more scientific evidence, better education, more funds for conducting research and improved cross-sectoral cooperation.

One of the main weaknesses, which was stressed in both in-depth and Q-surveys, is the low level of communication and coordination between urban forestry actors. National level organizations responsible for climate change issues and agencies involved in urban forest management (mainly at local level) do not cooperate. Managers stressed that climate change was not set as an important issue at the management level, that possible existing data and findings are not shared and used in management and that communication around the issue is a matter of individual interest (Table 3).

According to ‘general-awareness perspective’, climate change adaptation policy for urban forests should be top-down mandated by leading national bodies. However,  ‘Management-oriented perspective’ perceives that management bodies, due to their practical knowledge and experience, should be involved in this process as well.



Climate change is a serious challenge for future urban forest management in Belgrade. For the last 50 years climatic changes have already been recognised [22]. Forest resources in Belgrade are facing similar problems as other forest resources in the temperate continental zone due to the climate change [17]. The notion of local risks and negative influences of climate change have been recognized in the everyday practice of forest managers, but are not analysed and tackled in future management plans. This means that many of the currently applied forestry measures are mostly characterized by reactive adaptations [44]. Introducing new measures and tools, as well integrating different tools (species suitability maps, decision support systems) in management, and making them available to a larger community of forest practitioners [45], could improve current urban forestry practice in Belgrade.

Even though, the forest sector in Serbia has been harmonized with international climate change regulations during the last decades, integration of climate change aspects in forest policy and management is still week. Main goal of the Forest Development Strategy (2006) and the Law on Forests (2010) is securing sustainable forest management [39], [40], which provide basis for further improvements and modifications towards the integration of climate change adaptation aspects in urban forest management. The Afforestation Strategy of Belgrade is one example where climate change becomes prominent [24]. Also the significance of urban planning documents for urban forest management has been emphasised. However, frequent changes of the government and legislation in Serbia prevent the adequate implementation of existing ordinances into urban forest management. Such an instable system of passing legislation is directly connected to limited reactions of lower level governments and management. Harmonization of legally binding planning and management documents is necessary for an appropriate planning of activities.

Current urban forest policy and management in Belgrade is traditionally top-down, dominated by decisions made by the national body and characterized by low levels of communication among actors. Hence, there is need for better communication between actors, as well organization of training sessions and outreach activities for forest professionals [45], [46]. Furthermore, the coordination of activities and interaction of various stakeholders at different levels and from different sectors is needed [7], [47]. Stakeholder’s awareness of potential risks needs to be raised to set up conditions for well-informed and timely actions. [45]. Bottom-up initiatives by local actors (e.g. managers) addressing specific local risks to climate change could be valuable. Moreover, interactive discussions on measures [46] and the involvement of various experts (e.g. climate experts, decision scientists, social and communications specialists) are important as this might lead to better communication and agreement on selected measures and evaluation of trade-offs [20].

Even though many urban forestry stakeholders recognize the importance of climate change, their actual response can be characterized as low and passive. This indeed represents one of the major challenges for climate change adaptation. The presence of sceptics among employees in forestry regarding this issue proves that climate change awareness is still not as high as needed. Hence there is an urgent need in Serbia to raise awareness among experts and improve capacities that are needed for adequate responses, as suggested in other European studies [45], [46]. Empowering decision-makers and citizens is an important step, and can be done through formal education programs but also public service announcements [18].



This study gives broad overview of current situation related to climate change adaptation in urban forest management and policy, thus it represents the first analysis on this topic in Serbia. It can serve as a basis for more detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis of specific urban forests and problems imposed by climate change, in both ecological and socio-economic terms, as a result of which more practice-oriented recommendation could be drafted.

At the moment, the integration of climate change adaptation measures in urban forest management in Belgrade is a big challenge dependent on decisions of distinct actors who hold different perceptions. These distinctions of opinions indicate existence of complex urban forestry system, where various needs should be harmonized in order to overcome existing and forthcoming challenges. Due to this complexity, adaptive forest management is seen as an adequate approach for urban forest management under climate change. Traditional urban forest management with a narrow sector-specific focus, dominated by decisions of few actors, cannot meet the increasing challenges that urban forests face nowadays. In practical terms, adapting urban forests to climate change should aim at reducing their vulnerability to undesirable effects while preserving a full range of ecosystem services. This mainly involves the reduction of urban forest exposure to risk and increased urban forest resilience to disturbances. Adapting socio-economic aspects of urban forestry system are thus necessary, which assume involving various stakeholders and establishing coordination and interaction at all levels, as well as developing necessary policy and management plans and programmes. Furthermore, urban forestry stakeholder’s awareness and knowledge of risks imposed by climate change are necessary prerequisite in order to implement adaptation measures. Strengthening research, communication and fostering discussion around climate change, as well as building a stronger network of urban forestry actors, both at the local and national level, are therefore urgently required.



The authors would like to thank all participants that took part in this study. We are grateful to Dr. Götz Kaufmann for special advices regarding the Q-analysis work. We are also thankful to colleagues from the Faculty of Forestry in Belgrade, Dr. Dragan Nonić and Dr. Nenad Petrović, who supported us in the organisation of interviews. We are very grateful to three anonymous reviewers for very valuable and constructive comments.



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