The Climate Change mitigation potential of forest products

© products, from paper to pellets and from sawnwood to cross-laminated timber, offer solutions to contribute to climate change, through carbon storage as well as substitution of less climate-friendly products.

On 4 November 2020, FAO’s Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries (ACSFI), in collaboration with the FAO’s Forest Technical Network, organized a webinar to provide insights on what is known and what remains uncertain on the potential for forest products to provide carbon mitigation benefits.

In the opening, Mr. Walter, Secretary of the ACSFI welcomed participants and highlightedthe role of the ACSFI in providing guidance to FAO on concepts, approaches and initiatives regarding the sustainable production and consumption of forest products. He underlined the importance of the webinar stating: “Today’s webinar is dealing with topics of high relevance for FAO and its ACSFI - What is the potential role of forest products in mitigating the effects of climate change? What are the most important roles that forest products could play in the emerging circular bioeconomy and the Sustainable Development Goals?”

Ms. Heidi Brock, President and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) and moderator of the webinar, reinforced the role of paper and wood products as essential components of the modern world stating: “I believe that our industry is responsible, innovative, sustainable and continuously making improvement to create a better planet and a bright future ahead.” Mr José Carlos da Fonseca, Executive Director, Brazilian Tree Industry (IBA), then provided opening remarks highlighting forests at the core of the world’s action plan for climate change and forest products as among the most important players. He recognized that the ACSFI has been acting from a very results-oriented prospective, providing an exciting agenda despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. E. Ashley Steel Forestry Officer (Statistics), Forest Products and Statistics, FAO, opened the panelist’s discussion with a focus on the carbon storage potential of harvested wood products. If sustainably consumed and produced, forest products have the potential to support a wide range of sustainable development goals including SDGs 8,9,11,12,13 and 15. She highlighted opportunities to incorporate new data on recycling and re-use of paper and wood as well as to better synthesize and communicate what is known.

The second panelist Dr.Federico E. Alice Guier, Escuela de Ciencias Ambientales Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica, provided an overview on the potential benefits of forest management to mitigate climate change. He focused his analysis on tropical forests, as many tropical countries are in the process of implementing REDD+, and presented a case study that has been carried out in Costa Rica by the National University of Costa Rica and Wageningen University on the life cycle of wood from tropical forests.

Three main key points were highlighted to the audience:

  • Logging tropical forests does not lead to degradation so long as forests are managed sustainably;
  • Reduced impact logging remains the main mitigation measure to assure the sustainability of the system; and
  • Wood production and forest conservation should be complementary.

The final panelist Dr. Hans Verkerk, European Forest Institute, presented a study being carried out in conjunction with the ACSFI on Forest Renewables Replacing Fossil based and GHG-Intensive Products (called Project FORESIGHT), which is due for release in early 2021. He highlighted the important role of forests and forestry in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, which needs to consider carbon removals by forests and wood products and avoided emissions through substitution.

He presented a review of substitution effects related to climate change mitigation and other environmental impacts and he concluded by highlighting the following take away messages:

  • Wood and wood-based products generally provide benefits for climate change mitigation due to lower process-based emissions when compared to non-wood products;
  • Substitution factors are not sufficient to guide policy making – need for a holistic approach;
  • Lack of knowledge on climate impacts of existing and emerging forest products – paper, textiles, packaging, chemicals;
  • Resource-efficiency and minimizing material waste should be simultaneous policy targets with climate mitigation;
  • Need for a better understanding of future developments to estimate substitution benefits;
  • Important to consider all impacts to find synergies and minimize trade-offs.

Mr. Andrew Large, Director-General of the Confederation of Paper Industries, provided the closing remarks for the webinar. He complimented the panelists for their contributions to the ACSFI work and for the commitment and contribution of the forest industry to fighting climate change. He provided four takeaway messages:

  • Recognition of the scale of the positive contributions that sustainable forest management and forest products could make to mitigate climate change;
  • The importance of quality data to demonstrate the importance of the contribution of forests and forest products to both mitigating climate change and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the Global Forest Goals;
  • The need for sustainable management of forests that maximizes their multiple uses;
  • The importance of a focus on emissions reductions overall, to include a focus on the substitution of fossil fuel-based products with renewable options including forest products

Mr. Large concluded by advising that a clear global framework for policy makers is needed in order to realize this potential across all countries and by recognizing the role of the ACSFI in contributing to this global framework.“Today’s webinar is a key action, driving the fulfillment of the goal of advising FAO in the achievement of sustainable development goals, he stated.”

The webinar provided useful and actionable recommendations for the ACSFI and its members. “The presentations and discussions clearly showed the important role, wood products have to mitigate climate change and to support countries in their efforts to transit towards a circular bioeconomy”, said Lyndall Bull from the ACSFI Secretariat. “The ACSFI will continue supporting joint initiatives of FAO and the forest-based private sector that promote forest products and related sustainable and legal value chains and thus contribute to sustainable forest management and to the goals of the upcoming Decade on Ecosystem Restoration”.

last updated:  Thursday, November 19, 2020