Monday, November 24, 2008

Warming up for Poznan

My Australian friends (who have been fearing the climate at the upcoming climate change meeting in Poland) might read the title of this blog post as a hopeful indication that I am about to offer them tips on how to survive a couple of weeks on the cusp of a northern winter...

...truth be told I am very pleased to be spending the first two weeks of December in a Decembery place.

But I am warming up for Poland by putting the finishing touches on policy proposals and trying to coordinate with an increasing number of people on an increasing number of things that seem increasingly urgent as the deadline of my flight comes this Friday.

We are not sure what to expect from negotiations on land use, land use change and forestry, but it appears that, as in many other areas, Parties will be focused on taking stock and making a work plan to resolve outstanding issues in the new year. It seems that Poznan may be the last place to put new, big ideas on the table.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Another Point for the Side that Says Boreal Forests Do Cool the Planet

A scientific article raised quite a stir last year when the media coverage in response to it suggested that boreal forests might actually contribute to global warming because the cooling effects of carbon sequestration were overwhelmed by the effect of the heat absorbed by their dark green colour.

The result didn't seem to ring true with people.

Over the past few months, new scientific papers have lent more support to the idea that boreal forests are in fact coolers of the climate. First, a article in the September issue of Nature observed that old growth forests continue to sequester carbon much longer than is conventionally thought, increasing the cooling contribution from sequestration. Now, a new study published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society suggests that forests also release chemicals called terpenes that contribute to cloud formation, which in turn cool the planet by reflecting the sun's rays. The authors call into question the previous conclusion that dark forests would, on balance, result in atmospheric warming because they ignored factors such as cloud formation. (What the heck is terpene?)

So... a point for the northern-forests-as-climate-shield team (not sure what the score is currently). It's worth remembering though, that none of this scientific debate ever questions the fact that natural, unlogged forests store more carbon than commercial forests... forest protection remains an important climate change mitigation strategy.

Thanks to Carbon Positive, where you can find the original story that inspired this post and to Sean Cadman for passing it on to me.

Photo credit: Terpenes are a major component of conifer resin, shown in this picture from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The COSTS and benefits of rewarding carbon stored in harvested wood products

I just read a recent article in Forest Ecology and Management that examines the optimal strategies for maximizing carbon in forests, forest products and abating emissions through product substitution. The authors present their findings as an argument for why we should include carbon stored in harvested wood products in our accounting and therefore our policies to reduce GHG emissions from forests. I see these results completely differently: to me it is a clear illustration of precisely why we should not embrace this approach.

In a previous blog post, I argued that our carbon policy objective for forests should be to maximize forest carbon as this sector’s contribution to an overall climate change mitigation plan. I argued that the pulp and paper industry is in the business of transforming forest carbon into wood product carbon and that one of the impacts of this enterprise is depleted forest carbon stocks. A value placed on forest carbon stocks would create incentives for forest managers to redress this impact while they continue to extract products from the forest.

This article illustrates my point: Managing to maximize forest carbon results in decreased harvest levels, longer harvest rotation ages and older forests. On the other hand, maximizing total carbon stocks (forest carbon + product carbon) diminishes this effect: Clearcutting increases by 40%; rotation ages decrease (though are still substantially longer than business as usual); harvest levels increase 173% compared to scenarios that maximize forest carbon.

What is the dividend for this massively increased pressure on the forest? A five percent increase in total carbon stocks. FIVE percent. And where is most of this carbon? By the end of the 200 year modeling window, 80% of it is in landfills. Even considering the benefits of abated emissions coming from substituting wood for more energy-intensive materials the carbon dividend of this strategy is only six percent.

Finally, these carbon benefits reflect the long-term result after 100 and 200 years of modeling. What if we acknowledge the importance of emission reductions now, when action on climate change is so urgent? Modeling the impact of a four percent discount, the authors find that no harvesting would take place when maximizing forest carbon and 67% less harvest would occur when maximizing total carbon (forest carbon + product carbon).

There are two take home messages for me in this paper:

  1. Mixing product carbon into markets and policies could result in a significant increase in pressure on natural forests for very little carbon dividend.
  2. There is a potential to distort climate policies to support increased wood production even if it results in increased emissions in the short-term when we most badly need mitigation.


Hennigar, C.R., D.A. MacLean and L.J. Amos-Binks. A novel approach to optimize management strategies for carbon stored in both forests and wood products. Forest Ecology and Management 256 (2008): 786-797.

This study was carried out in a hypothetical 30,000 ha Acadian forest in New Brunswick, Canada, containing softwood, hardwood and mixed wood stands.

Photo credit: Ralph Eldridge

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Brunswick Releases a Policy on Forest Biomass Harvesting

The New Brunswick released a policy on Forest Biomass Harvesting on Crown lands this past Monday.

It would allow the harvest of all above ground biomass (residual tree tops, branches, foliage, non-merchantable woody stems of trees and shrubs, pre-existing dead woody material and flail chipping residue) within harvest blocks approved in a forest management plan. Leaving foliage on the site is identified as a best management practice.

The only restriction on harvesting above ground biomass is that it can only occur on sites where "minimal site nutrient loss resulting from the harvest of forest biomass," is expected.

There are no restrictions on biomass harvest based on the impacts on habitat and the policy acknowledges that, "forest stands harvested for bioenergy purposes may not provide the full suite of ecological values identified in the document, "The New Brunswick Public Forest - Our Shared Future."