Werner Kurz, abstract

Climate Change Mitigation Potential of the Boreal Forest Sector

Werner Kurz1, Carolyn Smyth1, Tony Lemprière2, Greg Rampley2
1Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Victoria, Canada, 2Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Ottawa, Canada

Forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle and changes in land management, and in particular reducing global rates of deforestation and degradation, can make an important but limited contribution to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations. Boreal forests are characterised by slow growth rates, a high proportion of carbon in dead organic matter and soils, low human population densities, limited competition for food production, and low deforestation rates.  Biomass carbon stocks in boreal forests are estimated to be increasing, albeit with regional differences, and with unknown time to saturation and high vulnerability of carbon stocks to the impacts of climate change.

Assessing climate change mitigation options in the boreal forest sector requires an integrated systems approach including the quantification of changes in emissions in forests ecosystems, harvested wood products (HWP) (including landfills) and the avoidance of emissions through the use of HWP and wood-derived bioenergy.  Mitigation analyses should also consider biophysical factors such albedo. Mitigation options through reduced deforestation or increased afforestation are limited in most boreal forests because baseline deforestation rates are low and existing forest cover is high. About 42% of the global increase in HWP carbon stocks over the period 1990-2008 originated from boreal forests. Enhancement of sustainable forest management and thus the increases in carbon uptake rates combined with increases in the amount of C stored in long-lived (engineered) HWP and the resulting emission reductions in other sectors offer the greatest opportunities for climate change mitigation in the boreal forest sector.