Science or Politics in Forest Carbon Discussion?

August 20, 2021

Posted By Anni Blåsten

We all know that forests stock carbon, both in soil and trees. We also know that growing forests are a carbon sink. Often the two concepts - carbon sink and stock - are confused in the public debate. Carbon sinks (in this case trees) sequester carbon, therefore increasing the overall carbon stock (in the forest). That’s about it when it comes to general agreements on the forest carbon issues.

old forest

The latest IPCC report alarmed the governments and most of the public for urgent climate actions. We must take immediate measures to save the planet from further heating and to keep it in such a condition that we can go on living on it. However, the measures to combat the changes in forestry, the construction and the energy sectors are numerous, and politicians or scientists do not agree on the best measures and their impacts.

There has been a lot of pressure to stop utilising forests to maintain and increase their carbon stock. Natural, untouched boreal forests would, however, slow down the sequestration as trees grow mature, and finally rot and release the carbon stocks absorbed. Some of the options are a sort of Catch-22. Can we continue burning coal? Or should we burn wood biomass and release that carbon now (calculation methods are a political agreements) instead of far future, to be compensated with time by the growing stock? These are all very technical and political issues, and the science depends a lot on the ground rules, including the details of the calculation methods. The EU climate politics, based partly on heavy lobbying, do not make it any simpler to form a clear, informed view.

Finland has traditionally been considered a country that manages her forests in an exemplary manner. Most of the raw material used for pulp production cannot be used for solid wood products, and pulp production is very profitable, but we can always question whether it makes sense to approach the sustainable harvesting levels and import timber from neighbouring countries to produce pulp (for toilet paper?!) to people in faraway countries. The climate issues are global, and Finland cannot “wash her hands” from the global problems in isolation. We should focus on high value-added carbon-storing products in our industry.

Sustainability has three main pillars; environmental, economic and social. The EU, for example, has been recently accused of overruling the other two pillars with the environmental view during the preparation of its forest strategy. This may be true, and this may also be justified as we will not have the “economy” or the “society” if we don’t have a healthy environment.

Another example of the complexities is Europe’s renewable energy policy that shifts the energy production to renewables; including wood pellets. Now energy companies are criticised for using wood for burning, but what is the realistic option?

Schuman

We at Indufor are aware of these considerations and try to have a holistic view of the issues in our client projects. We are always for sustainable forest management, including all three elements of  sustainability. We also promote the use of wood in solid or otherwise durable products, such as buildings, and believe that this is the only way forward in forestry.

 

Indufor is a global leader in Natural Resources Management, Investment Advisory, and Strategic Industrial Development consulting. We support our customers to compete and sustainably grow in international markets. Indufor has offices in Finland, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and China. We have over 40 years of experience in more than 100 countries. Our services support our clients to make the world more sustainable and greener.

 

 

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Anni Blåsten

Marketing Manager, Senior Consultant

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