With the phrase net zero being bandied around, and the ever-growing public discussion on carbon, climate, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, there couldn’t be a better time to talk about the role that certified forest management and certified forest products play in combatting climate change.
“The timber and forestry industries have a chance to share a compelling story, highlighting the role that they play,” says Jonathan Tibbits.
Sequestration is the first ‘S’ and the most obvious method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Responsible Wood is the Australian member of PEFC, the world’s largest forest certification system. Globally, PEFC-certified forests are estimated to absorb 315 million of CO2 every year and in Australia our forestry operations are carbon positive, with plantations storing 258 million tonnes of carbon (AFPA, 2021).
As a part of the UN Climate Change Conference, PEFC International has highlighted the vital contribution forests play in the fight against climate change, and the role of certification. Forests are a major component of the global carbon cycle because of the large amounts of carbon they capture in the soil and their biomass.
“After a tree reaches maturity, its carbon sequestration rate slows down. Sustainably harvesting trees in their early mature phase and replacing them with new trees ensures that a forest can absorb the maximum amount of CO2 .” Says Matt de Jongh, Responsible Wood’s Sustainability Manager.
Sustainably managed forests can also play a significant role in mitigating climate change through:
- Capturing and storing atmospheric carbon in growing forests.
- Protecting forest carbon stores from damaging wildfires.
- Providing long-term storage of carbon in durable wood products.
- Providing renewable substitutes for much more emissions-intensive building materials, such as steel, aluminium and concrete.
- Replacing carbon-intensive fossil fuel sources such as coal, oil and gas with bioenergy from wood waste, forest thinnings and harvesting residues.
“Certified sustainably managed forests provide confidence that forests are not illegally harvested, converted to other uses or degraded, ensuring long-term carbon cycles are maintained. In addition, they provide assurance that the forests are around for generations to come, as there are strict requirements around effective, silvicultural and establishment regimes – meaning that the forest regenerates or is replanted,” says Mr de Jongh.
Research (conducted in 2012 by Ximenes et al) has shown that forests managed for timber and fibre production provide the greatest ongoing greenhouse gas benefits, with long-term carbon storage in products and product substitution benefits critical to the outcome.
In a report published by the NSW Department of Primary Industries in 2021, Dr Fabiano Ximenes concluded that,
“There is significant evidence from studies in Australia and internationally that the sustainable management of native forests can lead to superior climate outcomes”.
There are two important points to remember, supported by this research, when it comes to the story of carbon storage: Forests managed for sustainable timber production help maximise carbon storage, even when compared to conservation forest, and when a tree is harvested carbon is effectively stored in the product, even beyond its use in landfill.
Chart showing carbon storage Research published by Ximenes et al in 2012.
“It has been conclusively demonstrated that in wellmanaged landfills, harvested wood products (HWPs) represent a long-term reservoir of carbon.”
Sustainably-managed forests in Australia are certified to AS 4708. This standard prevents conversion and deforestation and ensures forests regenerate and again grow trees, ensuring the sustainable cycle of forestry continues. Perhaps not obvious, but the report ‘Carbon dynamics in native forests’ highlighted that,
“the storage of carbon in harvested wood products gradually increases over time, especially for long-lived products such as electricity poles and floorboards”.
Many timber products also undergo a significant phase of recycling, further extending carbon storage.
“There is continued public support globally for the principle that sustainable management of production forests is an important climate change mitigation tool,” said Mr de Jongh,.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognises that sustainable timber production is an important climate mitigation tool. In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.
Mr de Jongh said that the high-level support represented part of a collective institutional view of the positive role that managing production forests played in mitigating climate change, based on current science-based research.
When we are talking about Carbon Substitution we are focusing on the role that certified forests and products play in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the displacing more GHG-intensive products.
“Broadly speaking, you can think about substitution in two ways. Firstly, substituting high energy production building materials, like steel and concrete, with timber, and secondly using forest biomass for energy production over non-renewable resources.”
The research conducted by Ximenes et al shows that forests managed for timber and fibre production provide the greatest ongoing greenhouse gas benefits. It was noted that product substitution benefits are critical to this outcome.
Research has shown that when it comes to product substitution when timber products replace non-renewable alternatives, it results in lower net greenhouse gas emissions. The research highlights the following product substitution impacts:
Native sawn wood products is in the order of 2 tonnes C / tonne of hardwood for silvertop ash forests and 1 tonne C / tonne of hardwood for blackbutt forests. For mountain ash forests, the product substitution impact for paper products ranges from 5.5 to 7.7 t C / tonne of C in pulp logs.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries’ paper ‘Carbon dynamics in native forests – a brief review’, presented that substituting fossil fuels for forest residues for renewable bioenergy applications has been,
“usually ignored in studies which have concluded that managing native forests for conservation leads to superior climate outcomes.”
The Ximenes research was the first to include the effects of product substitution and bioenergy offsets for native forestry in Australia, representing more closely what the atmosphere “sees” in relation to emissions.
“The concerns raised around the sustainability of using forest biomass for bioenergy production are not supported by the established research in this area. The research has shown that the most important climate change mitigation measure is energy transformation and keeping fossil carbon stored in the ground. The role that sustainably-managed forest play as a key ‘substitute’ in carbon management cannot be overlooked.” said Mr de Jongh.
Forests are a major component of the global carbon cycle and the storage of carbon in wood product and have the potential for a reduction in emissions when the wood is used instead of fossil fuels as an energy source or to replace more energy-intensive structural materials (2018 State of the Forests report).
Both industry and consumers alike can have confidence that AS/NZS 4708 certified forest managers are actively increasing forest health through climate-positive practices. The most recent version of the Responsible Wood sustainable forest management standard continues to have specific requirements that a scientifically justified estimate for maintaining or increasing carbon stocks in the long term is used.
Responsible Wood is an Australian not-for-profit that sets globally recognised standards for managing forests sustainably. We are the Australian member of PEFC International, the world’s largest forest certification system.
Our vision is to ensure Australia’s forests, and all products sourced from them, are amongst the most sustainable in the world. For more information about our globally recognised standards click here.
Read more from PEFC International on forests and climate change click here.