On the realistic contribution of European forests to reach climate objectives.Carbon Balance Manag. 2019 Jun 14; 14(1):8.CB
A recent article by Luyssaert et al. (Nature 562:259-262, 2018) analyses the climate impact of forest management in the European Union, considering both biogeochemical (i.e., greenhouse gases, GHG) and biophysical (e.g., albedo, transpiration, etc.) effects. Based on their findings, i.e. that additional net overall climate benefits from forest management would be modest, the authors conclude that the EU "should not rely on forest management to mitigate climate change". We first explain that most of the additional EU GHG mitigation effort by 2030 is expected to come from emission reductions and only a very small part from forestry, even when forest bioenergy is allowed for. Nevertheless, the inclusion of forest management in climate change mitigation strategies is key to identifying the country-specific optimal mix, in terms of overall GHG balance, between strategies focused on conserving and/or enhancing the sink and strategies focused on using more wood to reduce emissions in other GHG sectors. Then, while acknowledging the importance that biophysical effects have on the climate, especially at the local and seasonal scale, we argue that the net annual biophysical climate impact of forest management in Europe remains more uncertain than the net CO2 impact. This has not been adequately emphasized by Luyssaert et al. (2018), leading to conclusions on the net overall climate impact of forest management that we consider premature and applied to a partially biased perception of European policy towards forestry and climate change. To avoid further confusion in the debate on how forestry may contribute to mitigating climate change, a more constructive dialogue between the scientific community and policy makers is needed.