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Preserving more forests today may be worse for the climate in the long run – SNS report

Preserving more forests today may be worse for the climate in the long run – SNS report
Reduced logging may be good for the climate in the short term but does not necessarily lead to less emissions in the long term, according to a new SNS report.

Reduced logging may be good for the climate in the short term. In the long term, however, this does not necessarily lead to less emissions. The perspectives must be broadened in the debate on forestry activities, according to researcher Robert Lundmark in a new Nordic Forest Research (SNS) report.

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Forests face great demands. In addition to providing raw materials, forests are also expected to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, contribute to biodiversity, and offer an environment for seasonal sustenance such as hunting, mushroom- and berry picking, and other recreational and wellbeing activities such as hiking.

This diversity of demands inevitably leads to conflicting political and economic goals, according to a new SNS report authored by Robert Lundmark, Professor of Economics at Luleå University of Technology in Sweden.

The report, The Role of Forests in the Energy and Climate Transition, is a deliverable of the three-year SNS The Green Transition and the Business Sector research project that aims to contribute with knowledge for discussion and potential actions.

The fact that there are not enough forests to live up to all demands may seem like a problem, but this is actually the case with all forms of resources. There is not enough oil and iron ore, which is why there is a price for such raw materials. Similarly, we must accept the fact that there are limited forest-based resources and highlight this scarcity by means of pricing. Currently, for instance, forest owners are not compensated for how forests contribute to climate efforts, said Professor Robert Lundmark.

When more forested land is set aside to sequester carbon dioxide, there is a risk that there will eventually be an increased impact on the climate.

This is partially due to the fact that older forests do not sequester as much carbon dioxide as younger ones and partially due to the fact that less logging reduces the supply of forest-based raw materials that may be used to replace fossil fuels and emission-intensive building materials.

In addition, there is also the risk of so-called carbon leakage, as research shows that reduced logging in one country often leads to increased logging in other countries.

Hence, it is easy to overestimate the climate benefits of preserving forests.

Sweden aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2045. This is a fairly short timeframe in terms of the life cycle of trees. And, depending on the time horizon, researchers may arrive at different conclusions as to whether the best thing for the climate is if the forest is used or left standing. This also represents an important explanation for why our debate on forestry activities looks the way it does, remarked Professor Robert Lundmark.

In the report, Professor Lundmark highlights that there are no universal answers as to how forests should be used. One approach may offer the best balance between different values today but this is not necessarily the case tomorrow.

We need to increase our understanding of the complexity of these relationships, as well as our awareness of how different goals relate to each other, ended Professor Robert Lundmark.

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