A REPORT by the Finnish Climate Change Panel quashes a number of common claims about the climate benefits of increasing logging to produce wood-based energy and products.
The report concludes that increasing logging volumes from current levels will not support the effort to mitigate the climate emergency if the wood is used to produce the same products as today, be it pulp or other raw materials for the forest industry or wood-based fuels and products.
Jyri Seppälä, the professor in charge of sustainable consumption and production at the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke), on Thursday said the oft-heard claim that logging increases the carbon sink of forests over the medium, 30–80-year term is inaccurate because the removal of wood from forests undermines the carbon storage in the long term.
“Realising the climate benefits of wood use over a certain time period requires that the decline in forest carbon sinks caused by logging is smaller than the growth of carbon storage in wood products and the reduction in fossil emissions brought about by the use of wood-based fuels,” he said.
Seppälä added to Helsingin Sanomat that the compensatory benefits of wood-based fuels and products should be three to four times higher than currently to justify increasing logging volumes.
“There are currently no climate-based grounds for increasing intensive wood use. On the contrary, it jeopardises both climate and diversity goals,” he declared.
The Finnish Climate Change Panel is not demanding that logging volumes be decreased, he stressed, but that the timing and volume of wood harvesting be examined with caution in light of the climate goals set for the entire land-use sector.
About 75 million cubic metres of stemwood was harvested in Finland in 2021. There is considerable pressure to increase the volume due to demand arising from a new bioproduct mill that is opening in Kemi, Western Lapland, and the discontinuation of imports from Russia.
Logging has a detrimental impact on forest carbon sinks particularly because forests in the country are relatively young on average and grow at a rate that is slow relative to the intensity of logging.
“This impact is illustrated by the fact that with a lower logging volume – 63 million cubic metres a year – the average age of forests would increase by 34 years over 100 years. With the current logging volume, the average age of standing timbre would increase by 19 years over 100 years,” highlights Syke.
“If forests are felled at too young an age while the trees are still growing, it undermines the carbon-sequestering sinks,” Seppälä stated to Helsingin Sanomat.
Syke also challenged the perception that forest use is beneficial for the climate because wood products store carbon and replace emission-intensive fossil fuels, estimating that it would take a minimum of 150 years for existing wood fuels and products to offset the loss of carbon sinks caused by logging.
“Some wood products do replace fossil fuels and fossil coal, but they aren’t enough to compensate for the carbon deficit created in forests. The effects are minuscule relative to the loss of carbon sinks,” said Seppälä.
Syke pointed out that increasing the share of wood-based construction materials of forest-industry output would create benefits in the short term only if domestic logging volumes are not increased.
Only about one-fifth of stemwood consumed in the country is currently used in the production of wood products with a longer life cycle, such as construction materials.
“The climate effects of forest-industry products can be improved by increasing the material efficiency of manufacturing and using wood products, by increasing the share of long-term wood products of output and by manufacturing products that replace higher-emission products in the market,” outlined Seppälä.
“The forest sector should accelerate the development of innovative climate-sustainable solutions.”
Aleksi Teivainen – HT