In order to reduce the ongoing effects of climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon are global objectives of major importance that each level of government nationwide must support. Forests and, more largely, the forest and wood industry are strategic for limiting the effects of climate change, particularly thanks to their ability to achieve those objectives.

The carbon balance sheet of the industry combines the effect of carbon storage in ecosystems and in products coming from the industry with a substitution effect resulting from the use of wood in replacing energies or competing materials that emit greater amounts of greenhouse gases. In this context, the French Ministry of Agriculture entrusted the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) with the task of studying the potential for limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the forest and wood industry in France by the year 2050.

The study simulates three scenarios that could take place before 2050, which contrast different methods of forest management. The study confirms the central role of the French forest and wood industry in limiting climate change. In additional to the important role of storing carbon in forest biomass, the important benefits of using woods as a source material are also added. This second factor, that of an active forest management and a proactive policy of planting, could encourage and play a crucial role in limiting climate change.

Here’s a brief look at the three scenarios:

  • The “extensification” scenario, in which current harvest volumes will be maintained (which, when taking into account the growth in French forests, would actually lead to a lower harvest rate of French forests) and where the actors are more passive in the face of climate change, counting on the abilities of the forests themselves to adapt to it
  • The “territorial dynamic” scenario in which current harvest rates will be largely maintained, which would progressively increase the harvest volumes
  • The “intensification and reforestation” scenario, which would combine growth in the harvest rates wherever possible with a proactive reforestation policy that will aim to replace 500,000 hectares of lower quality forest with higher quality forests every ten years

The Bercé Forest (Wikimedia Commons)

All of these scenarios show a possible reinforcement of the forest and wood industry in France in limiting greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The “extensification” scenario increases carbon storage capacity in the forest ecosystems. The “intensification” scenario is more favorable to reforesting, and could be increased if the wood use and technological changes would help to favor wood products over products that use more greenhouse gases.

What this study has shown is that, for all the possible crisis scenarios associated with climate change (rising temperatures, stronger storms, drought, etc.), the ability to increase carbon storage in woods by the 2050 deadline is positive, and that a proactive management of this resource is necessary to achieve it.