Finnish Climate Change Panel: Using forests also produces climate benefits

26.5.2017 / Article
Photo: Anna Kauppi
A total of 28 researchers from the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Jyväskylä, the Natural Resources Institute, the Finnish Environment Institute and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland presented seven statements on the effects of forest use on climate change. Photo: Anna Kauppi

Finnish researches want to bring clarity to the heated debate on the climate effects of the use of forests. The Finnish Climate Change Panel published seven statements about climate effects which are unanimously supported by the key Finnish researchers specializing in forestry.

In Finland, the increase of loggings envisaged in the national forest strategy have raised public controversy.

Researchers say, among other things, that the forests in Finland will not turn into a source of emissions because of the additional loggings planned, but will continue to function as carbon sinks.

“Even if the loggings are increased as planned by the government, the carbon stock will grow. However, the growth will slow down,” said Tuomo Kalliokoski, Post-doctoral Researcher at the University of Helsinki.

According to Minister of the Environment Kimmo Tiilikainen, the report by 28 Finnish researchers has a high significance and its results support the goals of the national forest strategy.

Tiilikainen notes that the report recognizes the climate benefits of forestry. According to the researchers, it is possible to increase timber production in commercial forests by appropriate forest management, although a significant increase of stem wood cannot be expected before the 2050s.

According to the researchers, replacing fossil fuels with forest-based bioenergy will produce climate benefits in the long run, if the replacement is permanent and the growth of forests remains on the current level or increases. However, the researchers note, there is no unambiguous answer to how long the ‘long run’ is.

Both researchers and Tiilikainen stressed the importance of using wood for products with a long life cycle. “The significance of long-lasting wood-based products as a carbon stock is reflected in the report, which gives strong support to the government’s efforts to increase wood construction,” Tiilikainen said.

According to Jyri Seppälä, Professor at the Finnish Environment Institute, developing the advantages of wood-based products as substitutes for high-emission raw materials is one of the most important aims of future research. In addition to the climate aspect, the use of forests should be assessed when attempting to solve the plastic disaster in the oceans, for example. According to Seppälä, one of the great solutions of the future could be the use of nanocellulose.

Minister Tiilikainen called for the inclusion of international comparisons in the debate on the use of forests.

“In Sweden, for example, loggings have been on the level of 75 to 80 percent of forest growth. Finland’s national forest strategy estimates that Finland could raise the use of timber to the same level. This can be done without endangering biodiversity or the generation of climate benefits,” he said.

The Finnish Climate Change Panel

The climate effects of the use of forests – the main statements of the Finnish Climate Change Panel

The Finnish Climate Change Panel surveyed researchers’ thoughts on the climate change effects of forest use. Responses were assessed and processed by 28 researchers from the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Jyväskylä, the Natural Resources Institute, the Finnish Environment Institute and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

  • It is possible to increase wood production with forest management, but it is not possible to significantly increase the net growth of stem wood in the next decades. A significant increase can be expected in the 2050s and after.
  • Increasing felling and logging will decrease the carbon sink of Finnish forests and the carbon storage of forests for at least decades compared to a situation where felling is not increased.
  • The greatest climate benefit of wood use can be achieved with long-lasting wood-based products that keep carbon contained in the wood in use for a long time and replace products that have a high-emission life cycle impact.
  • In the long term, replacing fossil fuels with forest energy will create climate benefits if fossil fuels are permanently replaced, forest lands are maintained and the growth of forests remains unchanged or increases in the future.
  • There are model calculations representing the future development of Finnish forests produced to aid political decision-making, and it would be practical to supplement these calculations with information such as analyses describing the different development paths of climate change.
  • The goals set for the different ways of using forests – such as wood production, carbon binding, conservation and recreational use – are partly mutually exclusive, so it is unlikely that these goals will be reached simultaneously.
  • A significant increase of forest felling may lead to a clear deterioration of the diversity of forest nature unless the matter is taken into account sufficiently with the practices of forest management and the forest conservation network.

Source: The Finnish Climate Change Panel 

Anna Kauppi

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