Carbon absorption rate of EU forests surprisingly high

In order to reach the post-Kyoto goal of cutting 20% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, the EU is likely to need emission credits for forest expansion, a study by the University of Helsinki,
Finland, finds. If Europe’s growing forests are not taken into consideration, the 27 Member States will be hard-pressed to meet the target in time.

According to the Finnish researchers, above-ground tree vegetation in EU Member States absorbed an additional 126 teragrams (126 million tonnes) of carbon between 1990 and 2005. This
corresponds to 11% of the region’s emissions, a finding which came as a surprise to study leader Professor Pekka E. Kauppi of the University of Helsinki, who had estimated the absorption rate
at 5% in a previous study.

The rate varies widely across the EU, however: the 15 old Member States only reach a 10% ratio, while the twelve new Member States achieve an average of 15%. ‘In Latvia, for example, forests
more than offset per capita emissions,’ the study finds. ‘And forests in Lithuania, Sweden, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Finland absorb a large part of national emissions. At the other end of the
scale are lightly-forested countries such as Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Denmark.’

‘The good news is that trees are extremely efficient mechanisms for capturing and storing carbon,’ says Professor Kauppi. ‘The better news is that Europe’s forests are thriving and expanding
and therefore will play an increasingly important role in helping the EU to reach its environmental goals.’

‘Every year, the expanding European forests remove a surprisingly large amount of carbon from the atmosphere,’ the study’s co-author Aapo Rautiainen stresses. ‘According to rough estimates,
their impact in reducing atmospheric carbon may well be twice that achieved by the use of renewable energy in Europe today.’

Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries currently do not get emission credits for increasing natural carbon sinks through forestry and agriculture. The Finnish researcher’s suggest, however, that
this might be a helpful tool. ‘Policies that accelerate the expansion of our forest biomass not only represent a win-win for climate change and biodiversity, they also open up economic
opportunities,’ states Laura Saikku, the third author of the study. ‘Land owners can benefit with new industries like forest-based bio-energy production. This could also help to reduce one of
the main threats to sustained forest expansion – the need to open land to produce agricultural biofuels as alternatives to fossil fuels.’

The complete report entitled ‘The sustainability challenge of meeting carbon dioxide targets in Europe by 2020’ was published in the current edition of the peer-reviewed UK journal Energy

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