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The role of wood in tackling climate change

28/07/2011

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The European Economic and Social Committee has called for forests and wood-based products to play a central role in climate-change mitigation as carbon sinks and by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Forestry must play a role in Europe’s sustainable future according to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in an exploratory opinion drafted by EESC Vice-President Seppo Kallio and adopted in March 2009. The opinion was requested by European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström in June 2008.

The report is in keeping with the recommendations of the White Paper on climate change adaptation, which outlines the need to analyse options for an EU approach to forest protection and its role in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

EU forests and the forest-based sector can help meet EU climate-change commitments in several ways:

  • Despite advances in renewable energy, fossil-based energy will continue to be the staple of Europe’s energy diet. The role forests play by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere as they grow and storing it in biomass should not be underestimated.
  • Wood products are in themselves carbon stores. All products made from sustainably grown wood store carbon throughout their lifespan and so can reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere – a single tree absorbs 1 tonne of CO2 over its lifespan, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
  • A stronger reliance on wood rather than fossil fuels as an energy source would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • As wood building materials consume less energy and produce fewer emissions when manufactured, they must be used more extensively in construction.

The EESC proposed a number of measures for the EU to take:

  • Use wood in different ways and for alternative purposes – in particular, promoting use of sustainably produced forest bioenergy;
  • Spread information concerning the use of wood in the construction industry;
  • Play a more active role in international policy, and take the lead in promoting sustainably managed forests worldwide;
  • Establish a European committee of experts on forestry; and
  • Accept and include carbon stored in sustainably manufactured wood products as a mandatory instrument in carbon-balance calculations.

Areas of uncertainty

However, on-going research by the UK Forestry Commission indicates there are ‘still areas of uncertainty, particularly regarding how forests and wood products can be best used to off-set human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases’.

The Forest Commission is hesitant to promote carbon sequestration through forestry. It warns that there is a limit to the amount of carbon that woodland can store. Moreover, sequestered carbon could be released – through, for example, felling, forest fires or outbreaks of pests and diseases.

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