Finland’s fast-growing forests mitigate climate change

Inka Musta
Inka Musta
Senior Manager, Environment, UPM Wood Sourcing and Forestry
29 October 2018

Finland’s forests are its most important natural resource. Our forest resources are now greater than ever – and continue to grow at record pace. The reason for this is good forestry.

Trees bind carbon and can thus act as carbon sinks throughout their growth. Until the 1960s, the number of trees harvested in Finland equalled the local yearly growth. So back then, our forests didn’t really act as carbon sinks.

Since then, wood use in Finland has doubled, but at the same time, our forest resources have also seen enormous growth. In the early 1970s, our wood resources amounted to 1.5 billion cubic metres — today the number is 2.5 billion cubic metres. According to LUKE (Natural Resources Institute Finland), the average total harvest in Finland amounted to only 80% of the maximum sustainable yield in the 2010s – reaching 83% in the last three record-breaking years.

All this is based on effective active forestry in Finland, which enables forests to grow more and act as carbon sinks. Experience tells us that it is possible to increase both harvest sizes and forest carbon storage at the same time, thus maintaining the forest carbon sinks while increasing yields. Healthy, well-managed forests are the most efficient at binding carbon. While we increase harvesting, it is also important to preserve diversity in forests and minimize the impact of forestry on waterways.

According to LUKE’s assessment, our forest resources will continue to grow for decades to come, but that alone will not be enough to prevent climate change — we also need to minimize fossil-fuel emissions. The uptake of carbon by forests is not something we can use as an excuse to keep emitting more carbon into the atmosphere and depleting fossil fuel reserves.

Resource-efficient wood use reduces the need for fossil-based raw materials

Like forests, wood-based products bind carbon throughout their entire lifecycle. When we use wood, it is important to be as resource-efficient as possible. The parts of the trunk that are suitable for processing should be used appropriately (logs for construction or furniture and pulpwood for packaging, etc.), but we should also use all processing sidestreams, such as bark, sawdust, wood chips and lignin. They can be used to develop new innovations, and any fractions that cannot be processed further can be used to replace fossil fuels in energy production.

The forest industry manufactures products that customers want. In addition to wood construction and long-lasting products, there is also demand for recyclable and short-life products like cardboard packaging. In many products, wood is also used to replace fossil-based raw materials.

Studies show that in the future, forest growth will not decline to what it was some decades ago, but instead forests will keep cooling down the climate. Sustainable forestry and wood sourcing are concrete actions that ensure the growth of forests and their benefits to people and the environment. We believe that wood-based solutions have a significant role to play in our journey to a fossil-free future.

 

This blog has been previously published at upmmetsa.fi.

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