Study questioning the climate benefit of Europe’s forests receives criticism
According to a study published in the journal Science, for the past 250 years Europe’s managed forests have been a net source of carbon, contributing to climate warming rather than mitigating it. The study surprised many, and has now received criticism from the research community.

Two main critiques that have been raised are:

1) The study does not include the substantial carbon mitigation potentials of substituting fossil fuels and energy intensive materials with wood.

The authors present an analysis of net carbon emissions from forests, but omit substitution effects related to the link between forest management and the fossil carbon pool. Scott Benten, University of Copenhagen, writes in his response to the article that “the link between fossil and terrestrial carbon pools is however critical for modelling climate impacts. To conclude as they do, the authors should have asked: what would the GHG emissions have been in absence of forest management in Europe? The services provided by forest management - increased biofuel and materials production – substitute fossil fuels and materials, which are generally GHG-intensive. 

The report ignores that sustained yield forest management was developed to meet demands for energy and materials for an increasing population and prevented a complete destruction of Europe’s forest. Particularly since 1850, forest management has increased Europe’s forest area and productivity, and thus also the forest carbon pool as also reported by Naudts et al. By ignoring the link between forestry and fossil carbon pools and not considering development in the absence of forest management, there is no accounting for the effect on GHG emissions, and no basis for estimating the contribution of forest management to climate change mitigation. The omission of substitution effects from the analysis is critical, and the authors present conclusions and policy guidance based on incomplete analysis and knowledge.”

2) The time perspective is too long to give any indication on the effects of the forest management practises of today

Marcus Lindner from European Forest Institute says: "Policy choices on the use of forest management in climate change mitigation should look at current decision alternatives and not compare sustainable forest management with past unsustainable practices … If their methods had been applied to years 1950–2010, very different results would have come out”.

Pekka Eero Kauppi, University of Helsinki, writes in his response that “the period from 1750 to present is an inappropriate analog for assessing the post-WW2 trends and the potential of current forest management practices to assist with climate change mitigation. Over the last 70 years, European forests have been managed far more intensively than forests of most other regions while the tree species distribution has remained virtually unchanged and the timber resources have significantly increased.”

The original study can be found here.