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Managing the climate crisis: Outlook for forest and timber utilization


Vienna, Oktober 2019: The effects of the global climate change impact the Austrian forest. This will influence the contribution of the forest to climate protection. With the rising average temperature, the carbon storage capacity decreases. Necessary adaptations affect the economic yields from the raw material timber. The less wood is used as replacement for non-renewable raw materials, the more carbon from fossil fuels is emitted into the atmosphere. Result: The greenhouse gas balance of the forest could become notably worse.

This is demonstrated by the scenarios from the project Care4Paris, a collaboration of the Austrian federal research centre for forest (BFW), the university for life sciences Vienna (BOKU), Wood K plus and the Austrian Environmental Agency. The results were presented on October 23rd 2019 during an event at BOKU. The scenarios assume diverse climate changes and adaptation strategies for the Austrian forest and show possible developments until the year 2150. The project focussed on the greenhouse gas balance of the forest, the greenhouse gas balance of timber products, and the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions by replacing other products by timber products.

BFW: The forest cannot be an eternal carbon sink

The Austrian forest sequestrates carbon dioxide from the air and stores carbon in wood. This carbon storage is currently increasing and will continue to increase in the near future which aids climate protection. If the global warming is not limited to 2 °C as decided in the Paris Climate Agreement, this contribution is at risk. Higher temperatures and the subsequently mandatory adaptation measures can impact the sink effect of the forest and the timber sector substantially.

“The Austrian forest will be a carbon dioxide sink for the next 30-100 years. After that, the scenarios show a contrasting picture: The forest will become a carbon source,” reports Dr. Thomas Ledermann of the Austrian federal research centre for forest. “If we want to reach the Paris climate goal, the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions must have highest priority.”

BOKU and Wood K plus: Invest in long-lasting timber products

Long-lasting timber products pose ann additional carbon storage. It becomes evident in the scenarios that this storage is continually reduced due to limited chances of application, limited life cycle duration, and limited resources.

“The climate crisis will also change the economic framework conditions for the forest and timber economy,” explained Dr. Peter Schwarzbauer from BOKU. There is currently a trend to transform pure coniferous stands into mixed stands. Broadleaved species are increasingly introduced. In the scenarios, the continuation of this development and further measures for the adaptation to climate change were simulated. In order to retain its capacity to compete, the Austrian timber industry needs to adapt to these developments, eg. increase the capacity to process timber of broadleaved species and develop new, innovative timber products. Ground breaking technologies are required for the use of the timber of changing tree species.

Austrian Environmental Agency: Replace fossil resources with timber

If timber products are used, emissions can be avoided because timber products have a smaller carbon footprint than replacement products made from other raw materials. This is a permanent positive effect on the greenhouse gas balance for the entire simulation period from 2020 until 2150 – even if the forest becomes a carbon source and if the carbon footprint of replacement products is reduced due to decarbonised processes.

“The utilization of timber contributes greatly to climate protection. The storage effects can amount to double the carbon sink of the forest even with a moderate increase in temperature,” explains Dr. Peter Weiss from the environmental agency. “If less timber is used, the forest is a bigger CO₂ sink for a limited period of time but the overall balance is worse because instead mostly fossil raw materials have to be used. For decarbonisation, timber is an indispensable resource.” The researchers from all participating institutions conform unanimously that the restriction of global warming to 2 °C is essential to maintain the contribution of the forest against the climate crisis.