Changes in global climate are already stressing forests through higher temperatures, altered rain patterns and more frequent and extreme weather. At the same time, the world’s forests and forest soils currently store more than one trillion tons of carbon – twice the amount found floating free in the atmosphere – however, when destroyed or over-harvested and burned, forests can become sources of carbon dioxide.
“We need to stop deforestation and expand the land area covered by forests, certainly,” says Wulf Killmann, who chairs FAO's interdepartmental climate change working group. "But we also need to substitute fossil fuels with biofuels,-- like wood fuels from responsibly managed forests -- in order to reduce carbon emissions, and we should use more wood in long-lasting products to keep trapped carbon out of the atmosphere for longer periods of time." The FAO says that this can be achieved not just by preventing forests from being cut down, but through afforestation (new plantings) and reforestation (replanting of deforested areas) of non-forested lands. Particularly in the tropics, where vegetation grows rapidly and therefore removes carbon from the atmosphere more quickly, planting trees can remove large amounts of carbon from the air within a relatively short time. Here, forests can store as much as 15 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year in their biomass and wood, the UN agency said. FAO and other experts have estimated that global carbon retention resulting from reduced deforestation, increased forest regrowth and more agro-forestry and plantations could make up for about 15 percent of carbon emissions from fossil fuels over the next 50 years.
Harvested wood is also a carbon sink -- wood used in construction or for furniture effectively stores carbon for centuries. High-energy construction materials used in place of wood, such as plastics, aluminum or cement, typically require large amounts of fossil fuels during manufacturing. Replacing them with wood therefore has additional benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions. Similarly, the use of wood fuel instead of oil, coal and natural gas, can actually mitigate climate change. Although burning wood and biomass does release carbon dioxide into the air, if those fuels come from a sustainably-managed forest, those carbon releases can be offset by replanting. Indeed, if managed properly, forests can supply bioenergy virtually without contributing any greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
Posted on 31st March 2006
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