The narrative of the climate neutrality of wood as a resource

Primeval, natural and commercial forests in the context of biodiversity and climate protection - Part 2:

  • R. Luick
  • Christoph Leuschner
  • Manfred Grossmann
  • Eckhard Jedicke
  • Nicolas Schoof
  • Thomas Waldenspuhl

In the debate on climate protection and the promotion of renewable energies, the increased material and thermal use of wood as a supposedly climate-neutral building material and energy source is often promoted as necessary and sensible. The adoption of this narrative is increasingly leading to more intensive use of forests, to a further increase in the global supply of raw wood with a concomitant reduction in wood reserves, and is also contributing to the disappearance of the last primeval forests in Europe. This second part of a literature-based review on primeval forests, natural forests and managed forests in the context of biodiversity and climate protection analyses the development of wood reserves and wood use in Germany and discusses the CO2sink performance of wood in the prevailing usage pathways. This issue has important implications for biodiversity conservation. The climate relevance of wood as a substitute for other resources and the supposed CO2neutrality of wood as an energy source are critically examined. The climate policy goals of the EU and Germany and their instrumental implementation overestimate the performance of forests as CO2sinks and their potential supply of wood. This is especially true in light of the consequences of climate change.

The demand this paper makes of policy-makers is to prohibit logging in primeval and natural forests and to introduce corresponding normative requirements and criteria to restrict the use of timber for energy purposes. This applies in particular to imports of pellets and wood chips for electricity generation in large power plants. Thermal use of wood and short-life wood products usually leads to little or no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to the fossil fuel benchmark. Wood that cannot be further utilised for materials, along with residual or sawmill by-products, may be utilised thermally, but then as locally as possible and only in efficient facilities. Wood that remains in the forest in the form of living trees or deadwood can make at least as great and often even greater a contribution to climate protection than when it is used for energy and inefficient materials. The primary goal of forestry must not be maximum yield but forest preservation with stands that are as robust and resilient as possible.

Click here for Part 1: Functions for biodiversity and as carbon sinks and reservoirs >>