Under what circumstances do wood products from native forests benefit climate change mitigation?
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Climate change mitigation benefits from the land sector are not being fully realised because of uncertainty and controversy about the role of native forest management. The dominant policy view, as stated in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, is that sustainable forest harvesting yielding wood products, generates the largest mitigation benefit. We demonstrate that changing native forest management from commercial harvesting to conservation can make an important contribution to mitigation. Conservation of native forests results in an immediate and substantial reduction in net emissions relative to a reference case of commercial harvesting. We calibrated models to simulate scenarios of native forest management for two Australian case studies: mixed-eucalypt in New South Wales and Mountain Ash in Victoria. Carbon stocks in the harvested forest included forest biomass, wood and paper products, waste in landfill, and bioenergy that substituted for fossil fuel energy. The conservation forest included forest biomass, and subtracted stocks for the foregone products that were substituted by non-wood products or plantation products. Total carbon stocks were lower in harvested forest than in conservation forest in both case studies over the 100-year simulation period. We tested a range of potential parameter values reported in the literature: none could increase the combined carbon stock in products, slash, landfill and substitution sufficiently to exceed the increase in carbon stock due to changing management of native forest to conservation. The key parameters determining carbon stock change under different forest management scenarios are those affecting accumulation of carbon in forest biomass, rather than parameters affecting transfers among wood products. This analysis helps prioritise mitigation activities to focus on maximising forest biomass. International forest-related policies, including negotiations under the UNFCCC, have failed to recognize fully the mitigation value of native forest conservation. Our analyses provide evidence for decision-making about the circumstances under which forest management provides mitigation benefits.
© 2015 Keith et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.