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Södra has a "strongly positive" climate-change impact on GHG emissions

According to a new report, Swedish forest owners association Södra has a "strongly positive" climate-change impact, equivalent to 20 percent of Sweden’s combined emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq). The measurements are based on the growth rate of forests owned by Södra’s 52 000 members, and the effects of forest products when they are used to replace more emission-intensive products and energy.

Lumber and wood pellets at a Swedish sawmill.

Sawn wood and wood pellets awaiting shipment at Södra’s Värö facility in southern Sweden. Although substitution effects are not included in formal emissions reporting, they are recognised for their ability to slow climate change. According to Södra’s climate effect report, the reduction of fossil emissions due to substitution in 2018 amounted to 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO₂eq). Together with the carbon sink effect of the growing forest of its 52 000 forest owner members, Södra has a total positive climate-change impact of 9.2 million tonnes which is equivalent to 20 percent of Sweden’s combined emissions CO2eq.

Climate emissions in Sweden equate to approximately 53 million tonnes of CO₂ per annum, while the positive climate-change impact of Swedish forestry is 93 million tonnes of CO₂eq. In 2018, the forests owned by Södra’s members constituted a carbon sink equivalent to 2.1 million tonnes of CO₂eq according to its recently released report “Södra’s climate effect“.

That is the net carbon storage from forest growth of 13.1 million m³ (solid volume under bark, sub) and a harvesting volume of 11.9 million m³ (sub).

Significant substitution effect

However, the results show that Södra has a total positive climate-change impact of 9.2 million tonnes of CO₂eq when combining Södra’s net carbon sink with the substitution effect of all its products and production.

In recent years, more and more researchers have become interested in how this substitution effect can be measured, and there are many uncertainties. To be on the safe side, Södra has used a model developed by Holmgren/Kolar (SCA February 2019) for its measurements and maintained a cautious approach.

The method was reviewed by external researchers at a seminar hosted by the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA) in February 2019. Södra’s report has also been reviewed by researchers at Linnaeus University in Sweden.

Although substitution effects are not included in formal emissions reporting, they are recognised for their ability to slow climate change. According to the report, Södra’s reduction of fossil emissions due to substitution in 2018 amounted to 7.7 million tonnes of CO₂eq.

Lars Idermark, President and CEO, Södra (photo courtesy Södra).

“Our understanding of the climate benefits of forests is often limited to the large amounts of CO₂ absorbed by growing trees, but the effect of replacing products like steel, concrete, plastic, and oil with renewable alternatives is equally important to mention,” said Lars Idermark, President and CEO of Södra.

However, the greatest effect of substitution does not arise in Sweden, since Södra – and the rest of the Swedish forest industry – exports most of its products.

We have now made a contribution that shows how measurements are possible, even though the knowledge base is not yet complete. We need more research, but also greater awareness among both politicians and the general public that efforts to tackle climate change can be accelerated, said Maria Baldin, Director of Communications and Sustainability at Södra.

The substitution factor varies for each type of material. The aspect measured is the amount of fossil-fuel CO₂ emissions that is replaced per unit of biogenic CO₂ in forest products. Biogenic CO₂ is part of a natural carbon cycle in which emissions are constantly reabsorbed by vegetation, while the combustion of fossil fuels increases net emissions in the atmosphere.

Using sawn timber for construction has the greatest effect, but replacing plastic food packaging with biobased trays, or using biofuels instead of fossil fuels such as natural gas or oil, also has positive effects.

Transportation remains a challenge

The report also accounts for Södra’s negative climate-change impacts, which are mainly derived from the production of input products such as process chemicals and packaging materials, and from the transportation of raw materials to mills, and of products to customers.

The report is both confirmation that we are moving in the right direction with our sustainability efforts and an important document for our ongoing work with innovation, resource efficiency and fossil-fuel independence, said Kristina Altner, Head of Södra’s Sustainability Department.

The lead author of Södra’s climate effect report is Peter Holmgren, who has worked at the UN and has many years of experience in forest management and land use from a climate perspective. The co-authors are Göran Örlander, forestry strategist and Eva Gustafsson, Sustainability Coordinator, both from Södra.

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