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European Forests: Carbon Sequestration vs. Biofuel
Volume 11, Number 31: 30 July 2008

In an important paper published in the first volume of the new Nature Geoscience journal, Ciais et al. (2008) analyzed national forest inventory data and timber harvest statistics of the EU-15 countries excluding Luxembourg, plus Norway and Switzerland, for the period AD 1950-2000. This work revealed that over this half-century interval, the net primary productivity (NPP) of Europe's forests rose by approximately 67%, while their biomass carbon stocks rose by approximately 75%.

This build-up of forest carbon stocks, in the words of the thirteen researchers, "appears to result from woody NPP exceeding losses by timber harvest and natural disturbances such as fire and wind throw," and they say their analyses suggest that 70-80% of the observed increase in NPP has likely been due to "changes in climate and to the fertilizing effect of CO2," which factors, ironically, are the twin evils of the world's climate alarmists.

Buttressing their conclusions in this regard, Ciais et al. note that "another independent model-based analysis that accounted for changing age-classes, management and land use ( Zaehle et al., 2006) further indicates that forest NPP increases were mainly driven by climate change and CO2." In addition, they make a point of noting that "real increases of biomass increment have occurred and are still occurring," as "corroborated by tree-ring studies and by measurements of long-term permanent sample plots (Becker et al., 1995; Nicolussi et al., 1995; Spiecker, 1996; Rolland et al., 1998; Motta and Nola, 2001)."

In looking to the future, the international group of scientists (hailing from Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and the United States) writes that "European forests still have the potential to realize a build-up of their carbon stocks by a factor of two, within the next century." However, they say that this "potential CO2 sink is threatened by the proposal of the European Commission to increase the share of renewable energy to 20% of the total energy consumption by 2020," and that "this will almost double the wood demand for biomass energy (Ragwitz et al., 2005) in the EU-15 from 55% of harvested wood in 2001 to 100% in 2020 at current harvest levels."

In summing up this sorry situation, Ciais et al. conclude that "a return to using wood as biofuel ... could cancel out the benefits of carbon storage over the past five decades."

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Becker, M., et al. 1995. In: Landmann, G. and Bonneau, M. Forest Decline and Atmospheric Deposition Effects in the French Mountains. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany, pp. 120-142.

Ciais, P., Schelhaas, M.J., Zaehle, S., Piao, S.L., Cescatti, A., Liski, J., Luyssaert, S., Le-Maire, G., Schulze, E.-D., Bouriaud, O., Freibauer, A., Valentini, R. and Nabuurs, G.J. 2008. Nature Geoscience 1: 425-429.

Motta, R. and Nola, P. 2001. Growth trends and dynamics in sub-alpine forest stands in the Varaita Valley (Piedmont, Italy) and their relationships with human activities and global change. Journal of Vegetation Science 12: 219-230.

Nicolussi, K., Bortenschlager, S. and Korner, C. 1995. Increase in tree-ring width in subalpine Pinus cembra from the central Alps that may be CO2-related. Trees 9: 181-189.

Ragwitz et al. 2005. FORRES Analysis of the Renewable Energy Sources' Evolution up to 2020. Final Report. (Karlsruhe, 2005).

Rolland, C., Petitcolas, V. and Michalet, R. 1998. Changes in radial tree growth for Picea abies, Larix deciduas, Pinus cembra and Pinus uncinata near the alpine timberline since 1750. Trees 13: 40-50.

Spiecker, H. 1996. Growth Trends in European Forests. European Forest Institute Research Report 5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany.

Zaehle, S. et al. 2006. The importance of age-related decline in forest NPP for modeling regional carbon balances. Ecological Applications 16: 1555-1574.