Publication investigates potential climate implications of alternative forest management and biomass use scenarios

In the US and abroad, there is interest in how forest resources may be used to mitigate climate change. Forests play several roles in greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies, for example as a reservoir for storing carbon and as a source of renewable energy and material. Significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions can result from the use of forest biomass to replace fossil fuels, as well as to replace construction materials such as concrete and steel.
To better understand linkages and possible trade-offs between different forest management strategies, researchers in Sweden performed an integrated analysis of sequestration of carbon in forests and effects of substituting carbon-intensive products used by society based on different options for forest management and harvest utilization.

Three forest management scenarios were considered, including the present “business-as-usual,” increasing forest reserves, and increasing forest production by means such as fertilization and management of faster growing species. Different scenarios for building construction and different energy system scenarios were also considered.

Modeling results indicated that the scenario with the greatest climate benefits included high rates of forest production via intensive plantation management, high harvest residue recovery rates, and high efficiency in conversion of biomass to energy.

The abstract for the paper follows.

“We estimate the climate effects of directing forest management in Sweden towards increased carbon storage in forests with more land set-aside for protection, or towards increased forest production for the substitution of carbon-intensive materials and fossil fuels, relative to a reference case of current forest management. We develop various scenarios of forest management and biomass use to estimate the carbon balances of the forest systems, including ecological and technological components, and their impacts on the climate in terms of radiative forcing. The scenario with increased set-aside area and the current level of forest residue harvest resulted in lower cumulative carbon emissions compared to the reference case for the first 90 years, but then showed higher emissions as reduced forest harvest led to higher carbon emissions from energy and material systems. For the reference case of current forest management, increased harvest of forest residues gave increased climate benefits. The most climatically beneficial alternative, expressed as reduced cumulative radiative forcing, in both the short and long terms is a strategy aimed at high forest production, high residue recovery rate, and high efficiency utilization of harvested biomass. Active forest management with high harvest levels and efficient forest product utilization will provide more climate benefit, compared to reducing harvest and storing more carbon in the forest.”

Reference 

Gustavsson, L., S. Haus, M. Lundblad, A. Lundström, C.A. Ortiz, R. Sathre, N. Le Truong, and P. Wikberg. 2017. Climate change effects of forestry and substitution of carbon-intensive materials and fossil fuels. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 67:612-624. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2016.09.056