Using wood to combat climate change

​There is a lively public debate on climate change. Armi Purhonen, Metsä Group's Environmental Communications Specialist gives her contribution to the conversation.

Armi Purhonen

There is a lively public debate on climate change. When international discussion of the topic began at the time of the Rio Convention in 1992, the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions was emphasised. It's easy to see the reason for this: the main culprit behind the speed of climate change is the use of fossil fuels, and the CO2 emissions they release, which remain in the atmosphere for dozens of years.

Recently, the debate's focus has increasingly shifted to the other side of climate change mitigation – carbon sequestration. Forests are an important carbon sink, because trees capture carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis. However, living trees, as well as wood products, serve as carbon storages. So using wood has an impact on the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content but does not increase the amount of carbon dioxide circulating above ground.

Planned climate change mitigation measures impact the use of forests and Finland's more than 600,000 private forest owners, who also have a financial interest in their forests. Any restriction on the use of wood for climate reasons would particularly affect the assets of forest owners. Yet strict harvesting restrictions in Finland would lead to other regions or countries meeting the demand for wood raw material, and in fact, to the outsourcing of harvesting.

Are forests really the natural resource whose use, if restricted, would yield the greatest benefit in mitigating climate change? Quite the contrary, I think – the sustainable and resource-wise use of wood provides a unique opportunity to reduce the rising carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere. In addition to carbon sequestration, forests play an important role as a substitute for raw materials more harmful to the climate.

Metsä Group has engaged in successful efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Over a period of ten years, we've reduced our fossil-based CO2 emissions by nearly 40% per product tonne. We produce both mechanical and chemical forest industry products, some with a short, others with a long, life-cycle, during which the product stores carbon dioxide. You cannot harvest only logs used in long life-cycle products from forests because thinning and regeneration felling always produce smaller wood as well. We can use this wood for products that can replace raw materials that have a heavier burden on the environment.

Our production units make use of every fraction of a tree and the properties of each fraction in the optimal way. Our production yields both traditional and innovative solutions from the world's most versatile renewable raw material. So I feel that overall using wood does not present a problem for sustainability. On the contrary: it is an important element of a palette composed of numerous complementary solutions requiring rapid adoption in a world whose atmosphere is burdened by carbon dioxide and whose ocean ecologies are under strain from plastic.

Blog originally published on Metsä Group's website.