Forests, Bioenergy and the Global Climate
There is a wide consensus in the scientific community that energy systems, which rely on fossil fuels, are unsustainable. Wood-based solutions have been proposed as an alternative and gained wide support. However, disagreement exists among experts as to whether contemporary forest management as a source of wood-based alternatives is indeed sustainable. In February 2016 the journal Science published a paper stating that “Europe’s managed forests contribute to warming”, followed by a letter from eminent scientists to ten US senators in which they question the carbon neutrality of forest bioenergy. These publications contradict earlier views that are widely published in scientific literature and cited in, for example, the assessments of the Inter-Governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC).
In Europe, forest based biomass used to be generally viewed as sustainable, carbon neutral, and a solution to on-going climate change. The aforementioned recent publications suggest that the role of forestry in climate mitigation is much more limited than stated earlier. Given the importance of woody biomass in the energy production of Sweden and Finland, the new research received much public attention. How can this dispute be understood? Can the dispute be settled or do we need to adopt a new approach and strategy to forest management especially in light of the Paris Climate Agreement?