Harvesting wood has overlooked carbon costs

Oct. 4, 2023

When governments or companies report on greenhouse gas emissions, they often assume that if forests in a country are expanding, the carbon emitted from harvesting their wood does not contribute to climate change.
But carbon accounting has greatly underestimated emissions from logging, according to a new study in Nature by researchers from Princeton and the World Resources Institute. 
Using a new model to estimate present and future costs of global wood harvests – specifically for goods like panels and paper – the research team, led by Princeton scholar Tim Searchinger, found that forest harvests are likely to contribute 3.5 to 4.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere annually over the coming decades. That’s roughly equal to emissions from deforestation and land-use change associated with agriculture. 
Searchinger said, “We use wood for many purposes, but reducing wood harvests and growing and harvesting wood more efficiently would allow forests to last for many more decades and continue removing carbon from the air. It would give the world more time to address climate change.”
He said the manufacturing of wood products is particularly problematic when the wood that doesn’t make it into the final product is burned. Reducing how much wood is burned would go a long way toward reducing emissions associated with the wood industry at large, he said.

This was previously reported on in the September issue of Princeton's The Charge. The study was also covered by the Los Angeles Times and The Hill.

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