Wood and biomass – a contribution to climate protection

Forests are playing an important role in the climate system. They absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and therefore act as a carbon sink.

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.

published at 03.07.2018, Kommunikation und Service (Abteilung Präs. 5)