In Austria, forest areas continue to grow, as the increase of forest stands or forest areas always exceed the volume of timber harvested from felling trees. However, in some parts of the world, forests are ruthlessly exploited for products such as timber and/or pulp for paper, with about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions stemming from deforestation. This illustrates how important Austria’s sustainable forest management policies are in our fight against climate change.
Forest growth exceeds consumption
According to the data of the Austrian Forest Inventory, the growth of Austrian forests has remained almost the same for decades. Yet, despite the fact that, due to extreme weather events, wood consumption has risen considerably in recent years, the quantity of timber being harvested is still significantly below the growth rate- thereby ensuring that forests continue to grow.
Primary objective: Reduction of fossil fuels
Our primary goal must be to reduce the combustion of fossil fuels in Austria as a whole. In the Climate and Energy Package, Austria has set itself the highly ambitious goal of producing 34% of its electricity using solely renewable sources. Therefore, increasing the use of biomass in energy generation can play a major role in achieving this target. To be able to use the existing potential sustainably, the Federal Forest Research Centre (BFW) in cooperation with the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) prepared a comprehensive study on wood and biomass yield (“Holz- und Biomasseaufkommensstudie”, BFW 2008). According to this study, the current level of wood-use could still be considerably increased without exceeding the natural growth rate of forests.
Regulations regarding emissions credits to be negotiated with EU
After the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, the rules governing the crediting of emissinos from the land-use sector still need to be negotiated with the European Union. This is because they are of great importance to Austria, especially biomass, as it is being increasingly used as a renwable source of energy. As the ability of forests to perform multiple functinos and cycles must be preserved, forest policy cannot aim at carbon maximisation in forests. Further, countries such as Austria, where sustainable forest management has a long and important history, must not be punished for global deforestation.
Forests need time to adjust
Climate change will have consequences for the forest ecosystem as a whole, which is an important fac as forest ecosystems have the greatest level of biodiversity in Austria. This can be seen from the fact that about 50% of the registered Natura 2000 areas are forests. Moreover, as forests are not capable of adjusting to climate change swiftly, natural self-regulatory mechanisms must be enhanced in order to compensate for the changes in climate. This can be achived through the implementation of policies such as natural regeneration, planting heterogeneous forest stands, and the promotion of genetic diversity can help enhance the self-regulatory capacity of forests.
Finally, both promoting sustainable forest management, and ensuring that forests can continue to play their role in regulating the climate, need to be the primary objectives of Austria’s forestry policy.