Impact of the global forest industry on greenhouse gases

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is distributing a new report titled Impact of the Global Forest Industry on Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases (www.fao.org/docrep/012/i1580e/i1580e00.htm).The author is Reid Miner, NCASI Vice President for Sustainable Manufacturing. The summary follows.

“This book examines the influence of the forest products (roundwood, processed wood products and pulp and paper) value chain on atmospheric greenhouse gases. Forests managed for natural conservation, for protection of soil and water resources or for nonwood forest products may also have a considerable role in the global carbon balance, but these are beyond the scope of this publication.

Many forest owners and forest product companies engage in practices that will increase forest ecosystem carbon stocks or help avoid their decline, chiefly the establishment of planted forests on areas that were not previously forested, adherence to sustainable management practices in production forests and, increasingly, participation in chain-of-custody programmes. Experiences in North America and the European Union (EU) suggest the effectiveness of sustainable management of production forests. These regions contain most of the world’s certified forests, and their forest carbon stocks are generally stable or increasing, even though these areas also account for 69 percent of global industrial roundwood production. National-level statistics do not necessarily reflect the carbon stocks on land used for wood production, but some countries can provide information specific to production forests. In the United States of America, for instance, government statistics demonstrate that carbon stocks are stable on industrial
timberland, the areas most likely to be used for wood production.

Total greenhouse gas emissions from the forest products value chain are estimated to be 890 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per year, not counting the sequestration accomplished in the value chain. However, the forest products value chain also accomplishes large net removals of CO2 from the atmosphere, because a portion of the CO2 it removes from the atmosphere is stored as carbon for long periods in forests, products in use and products in landfills. In 2007, the net sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere into the forest products industry value chain was 424 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, enough to offset 86 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing forest products, and almost half of the value chain’s total emissions. When sequestration is taken into account, net greenhouse gas emissions from the forest products value chain decline to 467 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

Between 2002 and 2007, the direct emissions intensity (direct greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of product) of pulp and paper mills declined by 13 percent, while that from wood product facilities fell by 16 percent. The methods used to characterize other aspects of the global profile were too different from earlier methods to allow similar comparisons over time.

The pulp and paper sector and wood products sector are closely connected through wood flows, ownership of facilities and land, and economics. As a result, their carbon footprints are intimately connected, and attempts to influence one sector will likely have an impact on the other. When looked at separately, however, the pulp and paper sector is generally characterized by higher emissions and less sequestration than the wood products sector.

Several aspects of the forest industry’s activities are not adequately captured by looking at only the emissions and
sequestration accomplished in the value chain. For example, the use of wood-based building materials avoids emissions of 483 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year, via substitution effects. In addition, by displacing fossil fuels, the burning of used products at the end of the life cycle avoids the emission of more than 25 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, which could be increased to 135 million tonnes per year by diverting material from landfills. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that forest biomass-derived energy could reduce global emissions by between 400 million and 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, a goal that the forest products industry can help society to reach through its forest biotechnology research and forest biomass infrastructure. The market for wood encourages landowners to keep land under forest, helping to avoid large-scale losses of carbon to the atmosphere via land-use change.

IPCC has stated that ‘in the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.’ The analysis contained in the present report gives strong support to IPCC’s assertion that sustainable management of production forests represents an important mitigation option over the long term.”

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