Editor’s Note: In a three-part series continuing today, Treesource is exploring the potential roles of forests and wood products in addressing the global climate crisis.
Part 1 (Read it here): How can we use more wood, a renewable, biodegradable carbon sink, while also storing more carbon in forests across the U.S. and the world?
Part 2 (Today): What incentives and regulations are needed for landowners, forest stewards, corporations, governments and NGOs to change their practices and thereby make carbon storage a top priority?
Part 3: A look ahead to 2050. What could a more sustainable society look like, if forests and wood products were utilized in new ways?
Forests provide one of nature’s most powerful systems for capturing and storing carbon: photosynthesis.
Trees inhale carbon dioxide and mix it with the water and sunlight they capture. Then they convert the carbon dioxide into oxygen and release it back into the air, and produce energy. The energy takes the form of a sugar called glucose. The glucose nourishes trees and is the building block that enables them to grow taller and broader. The carbon from the carbon dioxide is stored throughout the trees.
As long as trees hold onto their carbon, they reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases that are overheating Earth’s atmosphere. But when trees burn or die and decompose, their stored carbon is released once more.
That’s why forests worldwide are crucial in the fight against global warming. The Nature Conservancy’s study published in 2017 estimated that 37 percent of the greenhouse-gas problem could be solved by natural systems, with forests playing the biggest part. This solution is called natural carbon storage.
Here’s the challenge: As societies worldwide move away from use of fossil fuels (the combustion of which is the largest source of greenhouse gases), wood will be in far greater demand as a raw material. And that will require growing – and cutting – more trees for use in bridges, skyscrapers, homes, businesses, packaging, medicines and clothing.
The International Panel on Climate Change put it this way:
“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, fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”