Trees are natural resources

9 questions about the forest

Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and store carbon in the wood. Growing forests act as so-called natural carbon sinks. When the trees die, the carbon escapes as CO through natural decay2. If wood is removed, it depends on the lifespan of the manufactured wood products. If the wood is burned, CO emissions are generated2. Shifting use to more durable wood products would allow carbon to hold onto longer after harvest. In 2015, the forest in Germany absorbed a total of around 53 million tons of CO2 in biomass, litter and soil. In addition, the wood product storage increased by 2 million tons of CO2. This sink would decrease with more intensive use, especially if the proportion of energy wood is high.

The scenario of the Forest vision provides for longer lifetimes for trees in the forest and more gentle interventions. Since the trees continue to grow if they are not harvested, the sink effect also continues. This increases the carbon stock in the forest and the sink can be kept at a level similar to that of today. Although less carbon is transferred to wood products when less wood is harvested, these losses are offset by the higher forest storage.

An important prerequisite for the implementation of the Forest visionWhat was not modeled, however, is that the use of wood becomes more efficient. If wood is recycled more often, the demand for fresh wood would decrease. The reduced felling would otherwise lead to more timber imports, which could mean intensification outside of Germany.

An important climate protection effect of forest management, which was also not considered, arises from the use of wood instead of aluminum, steel or concrete. This so-called substitution effect assumes that these materials cause more emissions than the use of wood in their place. This is still the case for many materials today. However, the effect will be less in the future when more renewable energies prevail.

Figure 5: Climate protector forests: Storage of carbon in biomass, soil and wood products