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Sustainable management increases Forests' carbon sequestration function in the UNECE region

Published: 18 November 2014

The UNECE region hosts an incredibly vast forested area: 1.89 billion hectares—twice the size of China or roughly four times the size of the whole European Union.

This vast body of forests plays a very important role in climate change mitigation trough carbon sequestration. In addition, it provides millions of jobs across the region, as well as social, economic, environmental and health benefits. 

While globally the forest carbon storing volume is decreasing, due to forest degradation and loss, the forests of the UNECE region indicate an increase in the total sequestration volume of carbon. The forests in the UNECE region, which represent 41% of the world’s, currently account for a forest biomass carbon sink worth 255 million tons carbon per year, and a living biomass carbon stock in forests and other wooded land worth about 78 billion tons.

Preliminary findings of a study on UNECE Forests, coordinated by the UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section, show that this mitigating effect is most successful if forests are sustainably managed, as the degradation, damage and clearance of forested areas is a major contribution to the net increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Thus, the way forests are managed influences the amount of carbon stored in biomass, soils, and forest products and how much is emitted into the atmosphere. Preliminary findings show that even if the carbon emissions from forests degradation—due to fires, insects infestations, and extreme climate phenomena—currently do not dent the region’s overall position as a carbon sink, this could change. It is possible, the UNECE study argues, that certain areas more susceptible to threats within the UNECE region could destabilize the global carbon balance. Thus, sustainable forest management practices together with mitigation-oriented consumption patterns, such as the substitution of products from non-renewable raw materials and energy sources can further increase the climate change mitigation capacity of UNECE forests.

In the words of the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from forest, will generate the largest sustained [climate change] mitigation benefit”.

The study’s preliminary findings are discussed at the seventy-second meeting of the UNECE Committee on Forest and the Forest Industry in Kazan, Russian Federation. Forestry experts gathered in Kazan from all over the pan-European region agree that despite the promising state of UNECE forests, further action could be taken to maximize carbon sequestration and storage in forests.

For more information contact Mr Roman Michalak, Forestry Officer, UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section at roman.michalak@unece.org.

To know more about the discussion on the preliminary findings of the UNECE Forests – State, Trends and Challenges, please visit: http://www.unece.org/forests/kazan2014.html#/

Note to editors:

Despite the industrial and urban growth of the past six decades, the forested area in the UNECE region has steadily grown since the 1950s to currently represent 41% of the global total—data that increased of one point percentage in the past decade only—as compared to 34.8% of land area and 18.3% of population. And although forests are not evenly distributed in the region— with the Russian Federation, Canada and the USA accounting for 85% of the total—some areas are experiencing historic forest expansion: the current size of the forested area in Europe, studies show, is only comparable to that of early medieval times.


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