Facing the realities in climate policy

Finland’s forests are a significant carbon pool, containing about one 10th of the EU’s forest biomass. Scientific review articles have shown that increasing harvests reduce carbon accumulation into forests.

It is also clear that a simple assumption of carbon neutrality of biomass use is not a sustainable basis for climate change mitigation. Carbon dioxide warms in the atmosphere exactly in the same way, regardless of the source of CO2.

In addition to biological factors, human behavior affects the outcomes of climate policy. Resulting from people’s consumption and investment decisions, wood-based products have a global demand that is currently increasing. This demand is based on consumer preferences and prices of wood and competing products. The increase in demand is partially a result of the widely accepted goal to substitute renewable materials for non-renewables.

It has been proposed that Finland’s climate policy should include constrains in forest harvests. However, that will not reduce the global demand of wood products. Hence, reductions of Finnish harvests lead to increases of harvests elsewhere.

An analysis using the Global trade model (published this year by Kallio et al. in the journal Forest Policy and Economics) indicated that a reduction of 100 million m3 of harvests in the EU would be offset by an increase of about 80 million m3 in other parts of the world. In the case of an individual country, such as Finland, the leakage would likely be even larger, proportionally.

It can be claimed that in many other parts of the world, an increase in harvests leads to a larger decrease in the carbon sink than harvests in Finland. This is due to a lower level of silviculture and higher risks for forest degradation or land-use change – both for biological and socio-economical reasons.

Reductions of industrial wood processing in Finland could also very well lead to larger production process emissions due to a lower level of environmental technology and energy recovery in alternative countries.

Constraining the industrial use of Finland’s forests does not appear beneficial from the climatic point of view, excluding the use of slowly decomposing biomass for bioenergy (which should be discouraged).

Production and consumption of forest sector products should be improved so that we keep carbon out of the atmosphere as long as possible, by developing the range of products, their life-cycles and re-use. Additionally, forest biodiversity should be improved in areas where the gains are the largest.

Lauri Valsta 24.9.2018