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Primeval, natural and commercial forests in the context of biodiversity and climate protection. Part 2: The narrative of the climate neutrality of wood as a resource

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In the debate on climate protection and the promotion of renewable energies, the increased material and thermal use of wood as a supposedly climate-neutral building material and energy source is often promoted as necessary and sensible. The adoption of this narrative is increasingly leading to more intensive use of forests, to a further increase in the global supply of raw wood with a concomitant reduction in wood reserves, and is also contributing to the disappearance of the last primeval forests in Europe. This second part of a literature-based review on primeval forests, natural forests and managed forests in the context of biodiversity and climate protection analyses the development of wood reserves and wood use in Germany and discusses the CO2 sink performance of wood in the prevailing usage pathways. This issue has important implications for biodiversity conservation. The climate relevance of wood as a substitute for other resources and the supposed CO2 neutrality of wood as an energy source are critically examined. The climate policy goals of the EU and Germany and their instrumental implementation overestimate the performance of forests as CO2 sinks and their potential supply of wood. This is especially true in light of the consequences of climate change. The demand this paper makes of policy-makers is to prohibit logging in primeval and natural forests and to introduce corresponding normative requirements and criteria to restrict the use of timber for energy purposes. This applies in particular to imports of pellets and wood chips for electricity generation in large power plants. Thermal use of wood and short-life wood products usually leads to little or no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to the fossil fuel benchmark. Wood that cannot be further utilised for materials, along with residual or sawmill by-products, may be utilised thermally, but then as locally as possible and only in efficient facilities. Wood that remains in the forest in the form of living trees or deadwood can make at least as great and often even greater a contribution to climate protection than when it is used for energy and inefficient materials. The primary goal of forestry must not be maximum yield but forest preservation with stands that are as robust and resilient as possible and use of long-life wood products.
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Originalarbeit
1 Introduction
Forests are raw material suppliers for wood
and at the same time diverse habitats which
have a significant influence on the climate
and the carbon and water cycles, and are
also important recreational areas. Society’s
demands on the forest are therefore diverse
and regularly lead to conflicting interests. In
the context of resource provision and the cli-
mate protection role of forests in Germany,
the following questions are often the subject
of intense debate: (1) how the forest area in
Germany is to be used; (2) what quantity of
wood should be removed; (3) how much area
should be placed under protection; (4) how
sensitive our forests are to climate change
and whether and how they need to be adapt-
Primeval, natural and commercial forests in the
context of biodiversity and climate protection
Part 2: The Narrative of the Climate Neutrality of Wood as a Resource
By Rainer Luick, Klaus Hennenberg, Christoph Leuschner, Manfred Grossmann, Eckhard Jedicke,
Nicolas Schoof und Thomas Waldenspuhl
Submitted on 12.03.2021, accepted on 16.10.2021
This article is also available in German: www.nul-online.de, DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2022.01.02.
In the debate on climate protection and the promotion of renewable
energies, the increased material and thermal use of wood as a suppos-
edly climate-neutral building material and energy source is often pro-
moted as necessary and sensible. The adoption of this narrative is in-
creasingly leading to more intensive use of forests, to a further increase
in the global supply of raw wood with a concomitant reduction in wood
reserves, and is also contributing to the disappearance of the last pri-
meval forests in Europe. This second part of a literature-based review
on primeval forests, natural forests and managed forests in the context
of biodiversity and climate protection analyses the development of
wood reserves and wood use in Germany and discusses the CO
2
sink
performance of wood in the prevailing usage pathways. This issue has
important implications for biodiversity conservation. The climate rele-
vance of wood as a substitute for other resources and the supposed CO2
neutrality of wood as an energy source are critically examined. The cli-
mate policy goals of the EU and Germany and their instrumental im-
plementation overestimate the performance of forests as CO
2
sinks and
their potential supply of wood. This is especially true in light of the
consequences of climate change.
The demand this paper makes of policy-makers is to prohibit logging
in primeval and natural forests and to introduce corresponding norma-
tive requirements and criteria to restrict the use of timber for energy
purposes. This applies in particular to imports of pellets and wood chips
for electricity generation in large power plants. Thermal use of wood
and short-life wood products usually leads to little or no reduction in
greenhouse gas emissions compared to the fossil fuel benchmark. Wood
that cannot be further utilised for materials, along with residual or saw-
mill by-products, may be utilised thermally, but then as locally as pos-
sible and only in efficient facilities. Wood that remains in the forest in
the form of living trees or deadwood can make at least as great and
often even greater a contribution to climate protection than when it is
used for energy and inefficient materials. The primary goal of forestry
must not be maximum yield but forest preservation with stands that
are as robust and resilient as possible and use of long-life wood prod-
ucts.
Urwälder, Natur- und Wirtschaftswälder im Kontext von Biodiversitäts- und
Klimaschutz - Teil 2: Das Narrativ von der Klimaneutralität der Ressource Holz
In der Debatte um Klimaschutz und Förderung erneuerbarer Energien wird
eine verstärkte Verwendung von Holz als vermeintlich klimaneutraler
Baustoff und Energieträger häufig pauschal als sinnvoll und notwendig
propagiert. Die Umsetzung dieses Narrativs führt zunehmend zu inten-
siverer Nutzung der Wälder sowie zum weiteren Anstieg des globalen
Rohholzaufkommens bei gleichzeitiger Verminderung der Holzvorräte
und trägt auch zum Schwund der letzten europäischen Urwälder bei. Der
vorliegende zweite Teil eines literaturbasierten Reviews zu Urwäldern,
Naturwäldern und Wirtschaftswäldern im Kontext des Biodiversitäts- und
des Klimaschutzes analysiert die Entwicklung der Holzvorräte und Holz-
verwendung in Deutschland und diskutiert die CO2-Senkenleistung von
Holz für die vorherrschenden Nutzungspfade. Dieser Komplex hat wich-
tige Rückkopplungen zu Anliegen des Biodiversitätsschutzes. Kritisch
betrachtet werden die Klimarelevanz von Holz als Substitut für andere
Ressourcen und die vermeintliche CO2-Neutralität von Holz als Energie-
quelle. Die klimapolitischen Ziele der EU und Deutschlands und deren
instrumentelle Umsetzung überschätzen die Leistungsfähigkeit von Wäl-
dern als CO
2
-Senke und die Lieferfähigkeit für die Ressource Holz. Dies
gilt besonders in An betracht der Folgen des Klimawandels.
Die Forderung an die Politik ist der Verzicht auf Holzeinschlag in Ur-
und Naturwäldern und die Einführung entsprechender normativer Vor-
gaben sowie Kriterien, um die Stammholznutzung für energetische Zwe-
cke einzuschränken. Dies gilt speziell für Importe von Pellets und Hack-
schnitzeln zur Verstromung in Großkraftwerken. Eine thermische Nut-
zung von Holz und kurzlebigen Holzprodukten führt gegenüber der fos-
silen Referenz meist nur zu geringen bis keinen Reduktionen der Treib-
hausgasemissionen. Stofflich nicht weiter verwertbares Holz, Restholz
oder Sägenebenprodukte sollten thermisch und dann möglichst ortsnah
in effizienten Anlagen eingesetzt werden. Holz, das in Form von leben-
den Bäumen oder Totholz im Wald verbleibt, kann im Vergleich zur ener-
getischen und ineffizienten stofflichen Verwertung einen mindestens
ebenso hohen und oft sogar größeren Beitrag zum Klimaschutz leisten.
Nicht maximaler Ertrag, sondern Walderhalt mit möglichst resistenten
und resilienten Beständen und stoffliche Holznutzung mit möglichst
langen Lebenszyklen muss das vorrangige Ziel der Forstwirtschaft sein.
Abstracts
22 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 54 (01) | 2022
Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests – part 2 DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2022.01.02.e
Originalarbeit
ed; and (5) what contributions the forest can
make in future to fulfilling the climate pro-
tection commitments made by Germany.
In the two parts of our paper, we discuss
arguments about (1) biodiversity and forest-
ry, (2) the carbon storage and sink capacity
of utilized and unutilized forests, and (3)
climate change mitigation effects of the use
of wood for energy against the background
of the current EU and German climate policy.
The first part (Luick et al. 2021) dealt with
the distribution of primeval and natural
forests in Europe and their contributions to
biodiversity and climate protection. In this
second part, we present data and analysis
that disprove the thesis that wood is funda-
mentally a climate-neutral resource.
2 Wood Reserves and Wood Use in
Germany
With an average wood stock of 358 m
3
per
ha, Germany’s forests are among the richest
in Europe after the forests of Switzerland and
Austria. In places, the density of these re-
serves reaches values that have not existed
on a wider scale for centuries. With a total
stock of 3.7 billion m3, Germany has by far
the largest total wood reserve of all EU coun-
tries and is thus well ahead of forest-domi-
nated countries such as Sweden or Finland.
Amongst the federal states, the forests in
Bavaria have the highest average reserves,
with 403 m
3
per ha, followed by Baden-Würt-
temberg with 365 m
3
; the lowest are found
in Brandenburg with 239 m3 and in Saxo-
ny-Anhalt with 237 m3 (FNR 2020).
However, these values do not yet take into
account the effects of drought, calamities
and exceptional harvest intensities in the pe-
riod 2018 to 2020, which are expected to
have led to a decrease in average reserves
(BMEL 2021a). According to the German Fed-
eral Statistical Office, timber harvesting in
2019 was circa 79 million m
3
and in 2020 cir
-
ca 86 million m3 (Hennenberg et al. 2021,
Jochem et al. 2021); put in perspective, this
amounts to around 90 % of the forest
growth that has taken place in that time
(Statistisches Bundesamt 2019, Statista
2021a). There are even demands in the for-
estry and timber industry, in order to meet
climate protection goals, to increase felling
to the same order of magnitude as forest
growth (e.g. BMEL 2017). In this context, the
Federal Environment Agency (UBA) warns
that the increasing pressure on forests poses
the risk of counteracting the gains already
made in the direction of environmentally
compatible and sustainable forest use (UBA
2021a).
Germany is a major importing and export-
ing country for wood resources, especially
for wood-based products. In terms of ex-
ports, Germany is one of the five most im-
portant players worldwide. For the period
2016 to 2018, the annual use in wood and
wood-based products averaged circa 263 mil-
lion m3, of which circa 129 million m3 were
domestic consumption (Fig. 1a). The exports
were circa 138 million m3 (Fig. 1b), a near
balance of trade, with very high cross-border
material flows (Figs. 1a, b). Of the current
domestic consumption of around 129 mil-
lion m3 (Fig. 1a) 77.8 million m3 are wood
products and 51.4 million m3 are paper and
cardboard. For the year 2016 it was calcu-
lated that around 78.3 million m3 came from
primary production and 48.8 million m3
came from residual and recycled materials.
Currently, half of the domestic consumption
is used for materials and the other half for
energy, approximately 63,5 million m3 each
sector (KIWUH 2019, Mantau et al. 2018).
It should be emphasized that annual do-
mestic consumption rose by almost 50 %
from 87.2 million m3 to around 127.4 mil-
lion m3 between 1991 and 2018 (Weimar
2020; Fig. 1); this corresponds to the political
goal of an increase in wood utilization for-
mulated in the German government’s Char-
ter for Wood 2.0 (BMEL 2004, 2017). Wood
use for materials grew in this period from
45.9 million m3 to 63.7 million m3 (+38 %),
use for energy from 18.9 million m3 to
63.8 million m3 (+237.6 %) (all figures from
Mantau et al. 2018).
3 The CO2 Sink Capacity of Wood
When making national calculations of the
amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) seques-
tered in wood products, only the quantity of
those products originating from a nation’s
forests is conventionally taken into account
(UBA 2020a). This primarily includes sawn
timber and wood-based materials, but also
short-life products such as paper and card-
board from domestic use, along with the
volume of exports. Imported wood products
are credited to the countries of origin. This
Fig. 1: Wood use and (b)
Wood supply for Germa-
ny according to sources
of supply in the period
1991 to 2018 (according
to Weimar 2020)
Graphic: Klaus Hennenberg
54 (01) | 2022 | NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung 23
DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2022.01.02.e Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests – part 2
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delimitation makes sense, as wood extrac-
tion is directly related to the sink perfor-
mance of forests, thus excluding double
counting. Determining an exact carbon
storage value for wood and the substitution
potential of wood-based products is difficult
and accompanied by numerous assump-
tions, which can be made either pessimisti-
cally or optimistically. The empirical bases
used in the following refer primarily to fig-
ures from the GHG inventory for Germany
from 2020, from which the Federal Govern-
ment’s current projection report on the de-
velopment of GHG emissions in Germany
also draws its data (Bundesregierung 2021b).
An important aspect of the accounting of
the wood product reservoir is “depreciation”,
because this reservoir and thus the storage
capacity for CO
2
are continuously reduced by
the natural degradation of wood products
and must therefore be replenished by new
products. A growing wood product reservoir
correspondingly increases the necessary
“storage maintenance quantity”. In Germany
alone, for example, an average of around
30 million m3 per year of new long-life wood
products were required to maintain the
wood product reservoir in the period from
2009 to 2018 (according to our own calcula-
tions based on the Common Reporting
Format (CRF) tables from UBA 2020a).
Assuming that 1 m3 of product requires
1.2 m3 of raw wood, this results in a value of
36 million m
3
of wood per year for maintain
-
ing the reservoir. With an average of an addi-
tional 4 million m3 per year, which corre-
sponds to 4.8 million m3 of raw wood, the
reservoir increased by an average of 3 mil-
lion t of CO2 per year in this period; it thus
acted as a carbon sink. In GHG accounting
terms this means: if long-life wood products
are produced from a raw wood equivalent of
1 m3 and the wood product reservoir is thus
increased, an additional sink capacity of
0.63 t CO2 per m3 per year can be expected.
However, if the wood product reservoir is re-
duced, GHG emissions of a similar magni-
tude can be expected per m3 of raw wood
unutilized.
From a climate protection perspective, the
change in the lifetime of long-life wood
products is particularly interesting. Fig. 2
shows the dynamics of CO2 sequestration
and release: new wood products fill the
wood product reservoir and lead to CO2 se-
questration; according to the half-life of the
wood products (based on previous assump-
tions this is 35 years for sawn timber and 25
years for wood-based materials), products
exit the wood product reservoir. This means
that after this time the sequestered CO2 is
released again from half of the products.
In our opinion, however, the data on the
CO2 sink performance of wood-based prod-
ucts is likely to be overestimated both in
terms of quantity and duration. In the Ger-
man government’s monitoring report on the
energy transition, a half-life of 35 years is
assumed for sawn timber, 25 years for
wood-based materials and two years for pa-
per, cardboard and paperboard (PPK prod-
ucts) (UBA 2020a, BWE 2021). These as-
sumptions are based on data from Wenker
& Rüter (2015) and Rüter (2016), which in
turn refer to estimates by Frühwald et al.
(2001). These assumptions need to be criti-
cally scrutinized, since, at least in the case
of wood-based materials, their useful life
has significantly decreased in recent dec-
ades – and with it their GHG sink effect. In
addition, there is a rise in the number of
short-life wood products, which have only a
minor positive impact on climate protec-
tion. In this context, the following facts are
important:
(1) Only a small part of the raw wood sup-
ply has so far been set aside in the construc-
tion sector as a long-life CO2 reservoir. This
results in shorter half-lives (e.g. Huber et al.
2021). The welcome increase in the propor-
tion of residential buildings predominantly
built of wood in Germany, from 12.3 % to
18.7 % between 2003 and 2019, has done lit-
tle to change this (Statista 2021b).
(2) The share of high-quality furniture with
a long useful life has declined: a large part of
furniture production for the domestic mar-
ket and for export, as well as imported furni-
ture, is now based on inexpensive chipboard
and fiberboard. These only have a useful life
of a few years and are often virtually unusa-
ble for material recycling due to their com-
plex and heterogeneous material structure
(e.g. ZDF 2020).
(3) The consumption of PPK products
(paper, cardboard, paperboard) with only a
short half-life has increased significantly in
recent decades. The total annual amount of
PPK consumption per person in Germany is
0.24 t, meaning a national total of around
20 million t. This makes Germany by far the
world leader in per capita consumption
(Deutscher Bundestag 2019). The consump-
tion of packaging in online trade alone in-
creased by 607 % between 1996 and 2017
and continues to rise sharply (Schlüter 2019,
UBA 2020b). Although paper in particular
can theoretically be recycled several times,
the quality declines with each recycling. In
any case, the recycling rate in Germany is
only around 60 % due to the high proportion
of imported new paper and packaging prod-
ucts from countries where the recycling rates
are even lower than in Germany. For ex-
ample, the recycling rate of PPK materials
imported from Finland and Sweden is only
6 % and 11 %, respectively (Deutscher Bun-
destag 2019). For the production of 1 t of PPK
products, an average of 3.93 m3 of raw wood
is required. Given a necessary annual new
wood input into the recycling cycle of ap-
proximately 10 % of the total production vol-
ume and the existing recycling share, this
corresponds to an annual raw wood require-
ment for Germany of approximately 40 mil-
lion m3, of which 32 million m3 are for new
PPK products and 8 million m3 for renewed
fresh wood use in recycling.
Graphic: Klaus Hennenberg
Fig. 2: Amount and dynamics of CO2 sequestration in the wood product reservoir and the CO2 emissions of
sawn timber and wood-based materials produced in Germany (UBA 2020a)
24 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 54 (01) | 2022
Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests – part 2 DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2022.01.02.e
Originalarbeit
(4) The consumption of pallets and wood-
en packaging, which are also products with
a short half-life, has increased significantly
(HPE 2016, 2018; VR 2019, Wirtschaft 2020).
In 2019, German domestic consumption of
pallets amounted to approximately 140 mil-
lion units. Of these, approximately 110 mil-
lion pallets were produced in Germany (VR
2019), which corresponds to a wood require-
ment of 6 million m
3
or, with calculated saw-
ing losses of 30 %, a raw wood requirement
of 9 million m3; this is equivalent to approx-
imately 15 % of the average annual total raw
wood harvest in Germany. In 2003, produc-
tion was only half as large, at around 55 mil-
lion pallets; total European pallet production
in 2020 was around 500 million pallets.
In terms of volume, the sink capacity of
forests, i.e. the C sequestration in growing
wood mass, is more important than the rather
slow growth of the wood product reservoir,
which for Germany, for example, was calcu-
lated at 4.2 million t CO
2
per year for 2018.
This sink capacity has risen continuously, at
least until 2017. On the basis of various data
sets, such as the Federal Forest Inventory 3
(BWI 3), the IS08 Inventory Study (2008) and
the carbon inventory (Kohlenstoffinventur
2017), along with model assumptions, the
growth of biomass stored in the existing for-
est area resulted in approximately 45 mil-
lion t of additional CO2 being sequestered in
Germany in 2017 (UBA 2020a); this corre-
sponds to an average of 4.1 t of CO2 per ha.
The sink capacity of the forest area is
strongly influenced by the occurrence of nat-
ural disturbances and the resulting damage,
and by the extent of timber extraction
(Fig. 5). Fig. 6 shows this relationship in the
case of the living biomass of the forest area,
based on the current GHG inventory for Ger-
many from 2002 to 2017 (Hennenberg et al.
2021). In the period from 2008 to 2017,
which was characterized by relatively low
natural disturbances and thus damage in-
tensities, relatively high additional amounts
of CO2 were sequestered in the wood bio-
mass. In years with increased felling, by con
-
trast, the sink capacity of the forests de-
creased by 0.62 t CO2 per m3 of wood re-
moved. In the period from 2002 to 2007
there were several major damage events
(2002 Hurricane Janette, 2003 drought, 2007
Hurricane Kyrill), which led to a reduction in
sink capacity, i.e. a lower build-up of wood
reserves, due to increased tree mortality and
reduced growth. The reduction in wood stock
build-up due wood harvest persisted even in
this period of strong natural disturbances
with a reduction of 0.25 t CO2 per m3 of har-
vested wood.
Forest management models with different
utilization scenarios are useful instruments
for generating estimates of the potential of
forests to provide resources and as a basis
for evaluating how best to avoid conflicts in
forest utilization. In most scenarios, differ-
ent forest management intensities are inves-
tigated in terms of their economic, ecologi-
cal and social impacts, and the effects of
wood extraction on the C storage capacity
in the forest are modelled. The so-called
WEHAM scenarios (Forest Management and
Wood Utilization Scenarios) are thereby an
important basis for many forest policy as-
sessments and decisions in Germany, both
past and present (Rüter et al. 2017, WEHAM
2017).
Fig. 3 and 4: Pallets and transport packaging made of wood often end up as cheap fuel in domestic fires
after only one use, for reasons of convenience and opportunity, although they would be better used as
material in order to help protect the climate. At present, the sharp rise in prices for fossil fuels, as well as
for firewood, is greatly encouraging this development.
Picture : Rainer Luick (202 1)
Picture : Rainer Luick (202 1)
Fig. 5: On a clear-cut area in Saxony-Anhalt, the remaining logging residues are compacted with so-called
bundlers and then sent for thermal utilization in a large power plant.
Photo: Rainer Luick (2015)
54 (01) | 2022 | NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung 25
DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2022.01.02.e Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests – part 2
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Particularly interesting are findings and
projections of the scenarios for the period
from 2020 to 2050, which also coincide with
the time frame for achieving climate protec-
tion targets agreed by national and interna-
tional law. The scenario findings for Germa-
ny, which differ in terms of motivation and
purpose, all predict a significant increase in
C storage capacity. if the utilization of forests
is reduced. Examples are the WEHAM Nature
Protection Preference Scenario compared to
the WEHAM Baseline Scenario (Oehmichen et
al. 2018), the FABio Forest Vision compared
to the FABio Baseline Scenario (Böttcher et al.
2018) or the Nature Protection Model com-
pared to the Baseline Management Scenario
(Gutsch et al. 2018). If 1 m
3
of wood is har-
vested and carbon thereby removed from the
forest, this leads to a decrease in storage
capacity of 0.5 to 1.5 t CO2 per m3 of wood
removed by 2050 (Hennenberg et al. 2019,
see also https://co2-speichersaldo.de/ for
forests in Germany, see Böttcher et al. 2020a
for boreal and temperate forests).
According to the assessment of the Scien-
tific Advisory Council on Forest Policy (WBW
2021a), the interactions of climatic changes,
changes in the biotic disturbance regime and
forest vitality and productivity resulting
from diverse combinations of the different
influencing factors cannot be predicted
sufficiently accurately. The assumed devel-
opment paths for the future productivity of
forests are therefore subject to considerable
uncertainties: “Even very advanced climate
models can only inadequately represent
extreme weather events, which have a deci-
sive influence on forests and their ecosystem
services”. Understandably, the extremes of
the years 2018 to 2020 are not considered in
any of the available forest development
scenarios.
It is against this background that the re-
sults of the WEHAM Baseline Scenario are
critically classified in the current projection
report of the German government (Bundes-
regierung 2021b). The sink performance of
the living trees in the current GHG inventory,
and calculations in the previous year’s esti-
mate for 2020 (UBA 2021c) likewise do not
consider the forest damage in the years 2018
to 2020. Until adequate forest development
scenarios are available, Hennenberg et al.
(2021) suggest, based on the GHG inventory
data in Fig. 6, that medium, severe and ex-
treme damage levels should be assumed.
For example, assuming severe damage to liv-
ing trees in 2019, instead of a sink effect of
about -41 Mt CO2, only about -9 Mt CO2
would be expected.
Despite these uncertainties, the change in
sink performance of the forest area is signif-
icant and should therefore be included in the
GHG assessment of wood products (Hennen-
berg et al. 2019). In terms of climate ac-
counting, the decrease in sink performance
of the forest area and the sink performance
due to C sequestration in long-life wood
products must be offset by 0.63 t CO2 per m³.
On balance, the positive effects of long-life
wood products are thus significantly re-
duced by the decrease in sink capacity of the
forest area. The use of long-life wood prod-
ucts only achieves a reliable GHG reduction
if a substitution of GHG-intensive non-bio-
genic mineral, metallic or fossil fuel materi-
als takes place. This applies all the more to
short-life wood products or forest wood fuel
(Figs. 7 & 8), since the C storage capacity in
the wood product, as in the case of paper, for
example, is very short or, as in the case of
logs, zero. Negative effects on forest carbon
sequestration and forest productivity, as
triggered by calamity events in the years
2018 to 2020, are not yet reflected in these
observations. In addition, the sink capacity
of the forest area will presumably be lower in
future, as an above-average number of trees
have died and continue to die, a large pro-
portion of the forests are under severe stress
and declines in growth are also to be expect-
ed in the coming years (e.g. BMEL 2021a,
Ibisch et al. 2021). Initial evidence to support
this hypothesis comes from calculations by
the Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches
Bundesamt 2021), according to which the to-
tal CO2 sequestration capacity of German
forests fell from 44.3 Mt CO2 in 2018 to
30.6 Mt CO
2
in 2019, which would be signifi-
cantly below the projected GHG sink levels in
the German government’s projection report
(Bundesregierung 2021b). Alarmingly, ac-
cording to the Federal Statistical Office
(Statistisches Bundesamt 2021), additional C
storage is only likely to be found in forest
soils, not in a growing above-ground bio-
mass stock.
4 Substitution – Wood is Not
Always the Best Option
It is not a thermodynamic imperative that
products made from wood have a better
GHG footprint if they replace products that
would otherwise be made from other raw
materials. Even the use of wood in long-life
products does not per se lead to a GHG
r eduction in these products. In the case of
Graphic: Klaus Hennenberg
Fig. 6: Dependence of the carbon sink capacity of the Ger man forest (wood reserve build-up in million t of
sequestered CO2 per year) upon wood e xtraction and natural damage in dif ferent periods (from Hennenberg
et al. 2021 based on dat a in UBA 2021b and Jochem et al. 2021). Gradient of the linear equations:
(1) 0.621 million t CO2/million m3 for low damage; (2) 0.436 million t CO2/million m3 for medium damage;
(3) 0.251 million t CO2/million m3 for severe damage; (4) 0.125 million t CO2/million m3 for ver y severe damage;
and (5) 0 million t CO2/million m3 for extreme damage.
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Originalarbeit
wood use and the corresponding carbon ac-
counting, the storage potentials of wood in
the forest that can no longer be realized
should also be calculated and accounted for.
There are many wood products that have a
significantly shorter life cycle than the effi-
cient top performers made of non-biogenic
materials (e.g. Fehrenbach et al. 2017). For
instance, in the case of façades, doors, win-
dows, etc., the additional life cycle assess-
ment values for the regular maintenance ef-
fort of the wood used must be taken into ac-
count; this includes, for example, paints, var-
nishes and their disposal as well as the tools
used. The overall balance is particularly pos-
itive, if GHG-intensive products are also sub-
stituted, e.g. reinforced concrete is replaced
by wood.
If the share of renewable energies increas-
es and GHG emissions thereby decrease, as
is the declared political goal, potential sub-
stitution effects and thus the GHG mitiga-
tion potential through wood products also
decrease at the same time. This is because
many products from non-biogenic materials
are still included in substitution models as
having a high savings potential (since the
energy mix is derived from an average value
for a specific baseline year). This value is con-
stantly changing for Germany in favor of the
share of electricity from renewable energies.
For 2020, for example, renewable energy
sources in Germany already had a share of
about 50 % of the electricity mix; ten years
ago this was only half as much and 20 years
ago it was only a few percent (ISE 2021). For
this reason, the informative value of compar-
ative life cycle assessments of products
must be viewed increasingly critically. There
are standards for the preparation of life cycle
assessments (LCA) that also cover the quali-
tative validation of input data; currently
valid are the versions of DIN EN ISO
14040:2009–11 and DIN EN ISO 14044:2006–
10. According to these, for example, input
data should not be older than ten years.
However, these principles are not consist-
ently adhered to. In a meta-study based on
the analysis of the 100 most frequently cited
studies of the evidence of LCAs on bioenergy,
Agostini et al. (2020) detected massive errors
of interpretation. Moreover, in many LCAs for
wood products, important elements of the
process chain are often not mapped and
thus CO2 emissions are not, or are incom-
pletely, recorded, resulting in inflated substi-
tution factors. This includes, for example,
forest stand planting (potentially with clear-
ing and tillage), stand maintenance, harvest-
ing and timber processing, the chain of
which can even extend across continents
(Hudiburg et al. 2019, Leturcq 2020, Camia et
al. 2021). These changes in sink performance
of the forest area, which need to be surveyed
and accounted for accordingly, are not taken
into account in many greenhouse gas as-
sessments (see Section 3).
5 Wood as a CO2-Neutral Source of
Energy?
In 2019, approximately 19% of gross final
energy consumption in the EU-28 was met
from renewable energy (EU 2020b). Wood-
based bioenergy has by far the largest share
of this, at 60 % (EU 2021c). For Germany, the
figures are of a similar order: in 2020,
around 19 % of German final energy con-
sumption came from renewables, of which
biomass made up 52 %. Wood, which is
mainly used for heat generation, accounted
for 65 % of this share (UBA 2021a).
The European and also the German “ener-
gy transition” has thus far relied on what is
probably the oldest energy source in cultural
history. This explains why in Germany a good
half of the annual wood supply is used for
energy. This supply comprises every possible
source, i.e. harvested wood, thinned wood,
forest residues, waste wood, industrial re-
sidues, landscape conservation wood and
other residues.
According to estimates by Jochem et al
(2020 and 2021), however, at least 40 % of
the fuelwood harvest, such as private har-
vests (Fig. 9), is not recorded and is therefore
missing from many inventories. This partly
explains the diverging figures regarding the
use of wood for energy according to its re-
spective usage pathway. According to data
from the project “Rohstoffmonitoring Holz”,
which assesses the volume flows on the use
side, the estimated wood volumes are
distributed among the individual pathways
as follows (Döring et al. 2018 a, b, Mantau et
al. 2018):
f
Small-scale furnaces: rated thermal input
< 1 MW in 2016: 8.2 million m3; forest wood
share 1.3 million m3;
f
Large-scale furnaces: rated thermal input
1 MW in 2016: 23.8 million m3; forest wood
share 1.0 million m3;
f
Private households: 28.3 million m
3
; for-
est wood share 18.6 million m
3
(mainly logs).
For several years, forestry circles in the
USA have been publishing position papers
Fig. 7 and 8: The thermal utilization of wood from thinning and residual wood and of wood from landscape management makes sense as an energy resource for
efficient local heating systems. However, the amount that can be used sustainably is lower than that calculated by models. Excessive biomass use in terms of
quantity and frequenc y can also lead to nutrient supply problems, depending on the location and the nutrient supply potential. In some federal states, so-called
“traf fic light maps” with three levels indicate possible use intensities and restrictions for biomass use for energy.
Phoros: Rainer Luick (2015)
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with identical content by different authors
claiming to be “leading US scientists in the
wood utilization sector” and which are al-
ternately addressed to new governments in
the USA, in Europe and to the EU institu-
tions (BIOMASS101 2019, NAUFRP 2019,
Hudson 2021, WCRC 2021). The papers in-
volve lobbying for the increased use of wood
for energy, hidden amongst “scientific evi-
dence” for its outstanding positive climate
effects. The basis of this is the work of Min-
er et al. (2014), a study which claims to have
been prepared by leading experts on the
topic of the forest- carbon complex (see also
IEA Bioenergy 2019). The central claims of
this “evidence”, the so-called “Fundamen-
tals”, are:
this, and (2) with energy from wood and its
flexible applications, for instance in pro-
viding high-temperature process energy,
climate protection goals can be achieved
quickly and at low cost. According to them,
wood (including deadwood) that remains in
the forest has “no societal benefit” unless it
substitutes for oil, coal or gas.
However, studies by the EU Joint Research
Centre (Agostini et al. 2014, Camia et al.
2021) and the European Academies Science
Advisory Council (EASAC 2017 and 2018), the
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC
2015), Norton et al. (2019) and Kun et al.
(2020) arrive at opposite conclusions. These
studies state that the use of forest biomass
for heating purposes emits significantly
more CO
2
than fossil fuels over a timespan
of a few decades and, depending on its ori-
gin, can have an immediately negative car-
bon footprint at the moment it is harvested.
This is particularly the case if trees are direct-
ly felled for firewood or if wood is chosen
over other potential materials. It is worth
noting that ILUC effects (indirect land use
changes) are not considered in these studies
(see also Table 1 and Fig. 10). This is impor-
tant because specific analysis is required –
for example, in the case of short-rotation
coppices (Table 1 and Fig. 11), effective CO2
reduction only occurs in the medium term,
with a time horizon of 50 years.
Another very critical evaluation of the sub-
stitution of fossil fuels, and their associated
(1) that the use of wood for energy could
significantly reduce global CO2 emissions;
(2) that the increase in the use of forest
wood for energy purposes would lead to an
increase in forest area and thus to a further
improvement in the carbon footprint, and
(3) that the short-term higher biogenic
CO2 emissions from the use of wood for en-
ergy are harmless, as they are more than
compensated for within a short time by the
substitution away from fossil energy sources
and the CO2 emissions thereby saved.
Wern et al. (2021) also argue resolutely
that energy from wood should be a decisive
factor in shaping the energy transition. The
basis of their assessment is that (1) the most
important scientific scenarios would support
Fig. 9: The extrac tion of
firewood from private
forests is not recorded in
the official statistics and
has considerable, but un-
accounted for, shares in
the total volume of raw
wood. The quantities of
firewood that come from
state, municipal and large
private forests via so-
called “area lots” are also
significantly higher than
the quantities recorded
on a wholesale basis.
Understandably, this
“additional use” is the
real economic interest
of the private loggers.
Photo: Rain er Luick (2020)
Tab. 1: Qualitative evaluation of CO2 emission reductions from different forest biomass energy pathways compared with two fossil fuel resources (coal and natural
gas) for three periods (Agostini et al. 2014).
Biomass Efficiency of CO2- emission reductions
short-term
(10 years)
medium-term
(50 years)
long-term
(centuries)
Coal Gas Coal Gas Coal Gas
Whole tree utilization for energy from temperate forests ––– ––– + / – ++ +
Whole tree utilization for energy from boreal forests ––– ––– –– + +
Harvest residues* + / – + / – + + ++ ++
Thinning* + / – + / – + + ++ ++
Landscape maintenance material* + / – + / – + + ++ ++
Calamity utilization* + / – + / – + + ++ ++
Afforestation on marginal agricultural land (without taking
into account possible ILUC effects).
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++
Short-rotation plantations ++ ++++ +++
Waste wood, sawdust +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++
+ / – Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from biomass energy use and fossil fuel energy use are comparable in principle; preferabilit y is pathway de-
pendent.
– / –– / –– – Thermal biomass use emits more CO2 equivalents than the fossil fuel baseline.
+ / ++ / ++ + Thermal biomass use emits fewer CO2 equivalents than the fossil fuel baseline.
* The advantages or disadvantages of burning wood from har vest residues, thinning, and from calamities depends on any alternative utilization
pathways that may exist along with mineralization rates.
28 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 54 (01) | 2022
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emissions, by wood for the period up to 2050
is presented by Searchinger et al. (2018). In
this study, wood losses and thermodynamic
efficiency differences in wood energy use
compared to heating oil or natural gas were
also taken into account. The overall picture is
sobering, as the burning of wood for energy
has higher GHG emissions by a factor of two
to three than the fossil fuel baseline. Hen-
nenberg et al. (2019) come to similar conclu-
sions when evaluating different forest treat-
ment and wood use scenarios (see also sec-
tion 4). If the change in sink capacity of the
forest area caused by wood extraction is in-
cluded in LCAs, the use of wood for energy
can contribute to a GHG reduction of 20 %
compared to fossil fuels. But it can also
cause additional GHG emissions of 80 % or
more. Bolte et al. (2021) also explicitly em-
phasize the importance of the forest sink
and point out that depletion of forest re-
serves, such as in the intensive use of wood
for energy, is detrimental to the climate, as
the medium- and long-term reduction of the
CO2 sink in the forest can no longer be com-
pensated for by substitution effects.
These quite negative assessments stand in
clear contradiction to the default values of
the EU Renewable Energy Directive (EU RED II
2018/2001), according to which wood energy
from direct harvesting provides a GHG reduc-
tion of more than 80 % compared to fossil fu-
els. The main reason for the different assess-
ment is that the GHG accounting in RED II
fails to consider the change in the sink capac-
ity of the forest. In addition, poor-quality
wood fuel, inefficient stoves, the way they are
fired and maintained, along with poor home
insulation and building fabric, mean that the
energy efficiency of wood is highly problem-
atic when burned in small furnaces or the sin-
gle-room stoves typical of private households
(UBA 2021b). An overall assessment must
also take into account the massive fine par-
ticulate pollution caused by poor combus-
tion. In 2017, wood combustion appliances
were responsible for almost 20 % of fine par-
ticulate emissions in Germany (FNR 2020,
Schmidt 2018, UBA 2021d). Both aspects
(poor efficiency and emissions) were the rea-
sons for recent regulation by the legislator.
From 2020 to 2024 alone, about 4 out of ap-
proximately 11.2 million old wood and coal
stoves in Germany must either be replaced or
retrofitted (BImSchG & BImSchV 2010).
The comprehensive study by the German
Federal Environment Agency (UBA) on bio-
mass cascades (Fehrenbach et al. 2017) con-
cludes that the shift from direct use of fresh
wood for energy to increased use in materi-
als would generate significant benefits in all
the impact categories examined. CO
2
mitiga-
tion effects would benefit particularly from
such a shift. It must also be considered that,
given a timeframe of 20 to 30 years, the po-
tential quantity of wood that can be used for
energy would in the end barely be any lower,
but by then it would be burned in more effi-
cient and less polluting facilities and no
longer in inefficient domestic ones, so that
there would even be a considerable reduc-
tion in air pollutant emissions. However, the
CO2 storage balance of the forest is not con-
sidered in the UBA-study either.
Fig. 10: Graphical over-
view of mitigation poten-
tials for CO2 emissions
from thermal wood use
from different usage
pathways and an assigned
risk assessment for the
biodiversity status of the
associated ecosystems
(from Camia et al. 2021).
Graphic: R ainer Luick
54 (01) | 2022 | NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung 29
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6 Climate Policy Goals and the
Role of Wood
For protecting the climate and fulfilling the
Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 certain im-
portant strategic instruments are available
to EU Member States: the RED II (Renewable
Energy Directive; EU RED II 2018), the LULUCF
Regulation (Land Use, Land Use Change and
Forestry Sector; EU LULUCF 2018) and, as an
overarching set of regulations, the European
Climate Change Act (EU 2021a) (see also
Box 1). These legal obligations also influence
forestry in Germany in complicated inter-
actions.
In July 2021, as a key element of the Green
Deal concept (EU 2019, see also Box 1), the
EU Commission presented a package of
measures to the other EU institutions under
the title “Fit for 55”, which is intended to
shape the spheres of climate, energy, land
use, transport and taxation in such a way
that net greenhouse gas emissions can be
reduced by at least 55% by 2030 compared
to 1990 levels (EU 2021b). What is at stake in
the details?
(1) Seven existing regulations that are
conducive to climate protection are to be
tightened. In the context of this paper,
amendments to the RED and the LULUCF
Regulation are of particular relevance (see
also Box 1).
(2) In addition, there are to be four new
sets of rules and measures. The following are
important for the present topic:
the Carbon Border Adjustment Mecha-
nism (CBAM), which aims to avoid the
problem of carbon leakage by levying a
tax on products that are produced out-
side the EU under lower environmental
standards;
the European Forest Strategy (EU 2021d);
the directive on the development of alter-
native fuels infrastructure (based on both
biomass and the development of a hydro-
gen economy).
While there is broad approval and support
for the “Fit for 55” package from the govern-
ments and business associations of the EU
states, environmental groups in particular
have voiced strong criticism. This is because
the target of a net reduction of 55 % in
greenhouse gases by 2030 is based to a large
extent on the prediction that forests and
peatlands will offer significantly increased
climate sinks – something which is desirable
but not achievable with the existing instru-
ments and standards. This alone is expected
to compensate for 310 billion t of CO2 equiv-
alents. The increased use of biomass is
viewed particularly critically by environmen-
tal groups, as is the fact that the industry
and transport sectors are being protected
from major emissions reductions (CLEW
2021, EEB 2021, IEEP 2021).
In Germany, for the first time, the amend-
ment to the German Climate Protection Act
(Bundesregierung 2021a) sets binding
annual targets for the sink performance of
the LULUCF sector by 2045 (see also Box 1):
these are -25 million t CO2 in 2030, -35 mil-
lion t CO2 in 2040 and -40 million t CO2 in
2045. For comparison: in 2018, the sink
performance of the LULUCF sector was
-26.9 million t CO
2
; in 2017, the value was al-
most identical at -26.6 million t CO2 (UBA
2020a).
The Federal Climate Protection Act also en-
visages that the German government may
stipulate how natural disturbances that pri-
marily affect forests (storms, drought, ca-
lamities) are booked in the CO2 accounts.
Depending on the form of the pending legis-
lation, this could facilitate the achievement
of the target. In our opinion, however, such
options should not serve as an argument for
reducing the target values, since one cannot
predict how often such events will occur in
the future.
Broken down into sectors, forests and
wood products store -70.2 million t CO2,
while arable land, grassland, wetlands and
settlements emit 43.3 million t CO2 (UBA
2020a and CRF tables). Clearly, the targets of
the Climate Change Act for the LULUCF sec-
tor can only be achieved to a small extent
with emission reductions on agricultural ar-
eas. A significant share must therefore come
from maintaining the current sink capacity
of forest areas, either through further build-
up of wood stock or afforestation. In the
logic of the Climate Protection Act, a more
intensive use of forests with a reduction in
reserves is associated with a reduction in
sink performance and is therefore prohibited
(Hennenberg et al. 2021). However, this
contra dicts
(1) the real situation due to climate
change-related (natural) disturbances in the
forests of Germany, as seen in the years 2018
to 2020, and
(2) ther sectoral goals, such as planned
changes to the RED with its proposal for sig-
nificant expansion of renewable energies,
which in the heating sector may largely be
provided by increased burning of wood.
With regard to maintaining the sink ca-
pacity of the forest area, the Scientific Advi-
sory Council on Forest Policy (WBW at the
Ministry for Food and Agriculture points out
(WBW 2021b):
(1) that in stable forests with climate
change-tolerant tree species and mixtures,
Fig. 11: Only a few years ago, the establishment of short rotation coppice (SRC) plantations in Germany for
the production of biomass for energy was considered an important way to implement the energy transiti-
on and close a “wood gap” of 30 million m3 by 2020 predicted by forestry circles. Various studies identified
potential sites for establishing SRC plantations of 2 to 4 million ha. The status of this project is now clear:
after a shor t-lived euphoria, there are currently less than 6,000 ha and the tendenc y is for this to decline
further.
Photo: Rain er Luick (2018)
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significant biomass stocks can continue to
be built up even in older tree life phases,
(2) that the probability of a renewed release
of sequestered carbon as a result of distur-
bances in less climate-adapted forests is very
high.
It is also striking that both the Scientific
Advisory Council on Forest Policy (WBW)
(WBW 2021a) and the current Greenhouse
Gas Emissions Projection Report of the Ger-
man government (Bundesregierung 2021b)
point out that the projections on forests are
subject to high uncertainties (see also Hen-
nenberg et al. 2021 and section 3). At the
same time, the WBW study (WBW 2021a)
provides sensible recommendations, as to
how less climate-adapted forests could be
converted into climate-resilient forests.
According to Hennenberg et al. (2021), if
potential and effective climate protection
measures are consistently implemented in
the LULUCF sector, the goals of the Federal
Climate Protection Act for the LULUCF sector
appear achievable. This includes measures
such as the irrigation of agriculturally used
peatland soils, more extensive use of grass-
lands with increased humus build-up, meas-
ures for carbon enrichment of mineral arable
soils through so-called carbon farming (EU
2021e), and a build-up of C stocks in ecolog-
ically stable forests. However, this assumes
only medium damage from natural distur-
bances to the forest area (cf. Fig. 6). Yet if
climate change-induced disturbances con-
tinue to increase in frequency and intensity,
the sink capacity of the forest area will de-
crease more markedly and the target will
prove unattainable.
Highly problematic is the increasing
combustion of wood in large-scale thermal
power plants for electricity generation, so-
called co-firing, which is generally permitted
under the RED II regulations if certain effi-
ciency standards are met by the power
plants. Important countries of origin for pel-
lets and wood chips are currently the south-
ern states of the USA; however, increasing
quantities are also coming from the Baltic
states and Russia. The predominant manage-
ment practices there are large-scale
clear-cutting and full tree use, often even
with stump use (see also Box 2 & Fig. 12).
This is associated with large nutrient remov
-
al, which endangers the next forest genera-
tion on sites which have a weak nutrient
supply. To make matters worse, the remain-
ing slash is chopped up with special mulch-
Box 1: Green Deal, Climate Change Legislation, RED II and RED III and the LULUCF Regulation
The European Green Deal is a concept pre-
sented by the EU Commission in December
2019 to reduce the net greenhouse gas
emissions of EU states to zero by 2050, to
establish a circular economy and to achieve
important biodiversity targets (EU 2019).
The most important fields of intervention
of the Green Deal include the climate and
the agricultural and forestry sectors. In
June 2021, there was an agreement bet-
ween EU institutions on new benchmarks
in the EU Climate Change Act (EU 2020a,
2021a).
The EU’s new greenhouse gas emissions
(GHE) target is now -55% by 2030 compared
to the 1990 baseline. The EU’s key imple-
mentation tool for achieving the climate
targets is the Renewable Energy Directive in
its second amendment (RED II, EC 2018).
According to RED II (still in force), the
EU must obtain at least 32% of its energy
from renewable sources by 2030, based
on a current share of 19% of renewable
energy (share of gross final consumption).
This value was raised to 38–40% in June
2021 with the new EU climate law, which
means a doubling of the current share (EU
2021a, b).
A key sector for the decarbonization of
the energy system is the heating sector,
which has so far been dominated by the use
of energy from wood. Against the backdrop
of the EU’s newly defined climate protec-
tion targets, this sector must also be adap-
ted to the significantly higher targets in the
RED. It is to be expected that demands for
wood-based biomass will increase even
further due to the effects of the new RED
(e.g. Böttcher et al. 2020b).
The land use, land use change and fore-
stry (LULUCF) sector remains important, as
it has considerable CO
2
mitigation potential
and can therefore make important contri-
butions to fulfilling the Paris Climate Agree-
ment. As the sector can actively and rela-
tively quickly bring about changes in CO2
flows, it is a pillar of EU climate change po-
licy in its own right. The EU Regulation
2018/841 (EU LULUCF 2018, EP & EC 2018)
established binding country-specific ac-
counting rules for emissions and their re-
ductions in the LULUCF sector, with an obli-
gation to report regularly to the Commissi-
on. Thus, each EU Member State must en-
sure that CO
2
emissions from land use, land
use change and forestry are offset by se-
questering at least an equal amount of CO
2
from the atmosphere in the period 2021 to
2030. In Germany, this is implemented by
the Federal Climate Protection Act (Bundes-
Klimaschutzgesetz 2021a). With the amen-
ded Federal Climate Protection Act and the
EU Climate Act, the targets for CO2 emissi-
on reduction for Germany were raised (from
55% to at least 65% compared to 1990).
This has also required corresponding ad-
justments in the LULUCF sector. On ave-
rage, the LULUCF sector is expected to con-
tribute an annual GHG reduction of 25 mil-
lion t CO2 equivalents by 2030 which is to
be increased to at least 40 million t CO2
equivalents per year by 2045 in order to off-
set emissions from other sectors, such as
heat generation and mobility. The LULUCF
sector is thus not only expected to be cli-
mate neutral, but also to have a significant
sink effect.
The accounting provisions of the LULUCF
Regulation build on existing carbon ac-
counting provisions and initially apply for
the period 2021 to 2030. The following im-
portant individual targets were agreed:
(1) Accounting parameters and reduction
targets will apply to EU Member States.
(2) The LULUCF sector of a particular
Member State must not produce any net
emissions in total.
(3) This should constitute a significant
sink in the long term.
Each Member State shall establish and
maintain accounts that accurately reflect
carbon emissions and removals and shall
ensure that the accounts and other data re-
ported under the LULUCF Regulation are ac-
curate, complete, consistent, comparable
and transparent. For the forestry sector, the
LULUCF Regulation stipulates that a “Natio-
nal Forestry Accounting Plan” must be sub-
mitted by each EU state as a basis for ac
-
counting. In simplified terms, in Germany
the mean value of the reported forest sink
for the accounting period 2021–2030 must
be compared with a baseline value, the Fo-
rest Reference Level, of 34.4 million t CO
2
equivalents (EU 2021f).
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ing machines on clear-cut areas, which caus-
es further significant CO2 emissions through
rapid mineralization. Numerous studies doc-
ument the extremely negative effects of this
type of forestry on the environment and na-
ture (including Pearce 2015, Berndes et al.
2016, SELC 2018, NRDC 2019, Kuresoo et al.
2020, EPN 2021, Milford & Westphal 2021).
Why the thermal utilization of wood in the
manner predominantly practiced today is to
be judged negatively from the point of view
of global GHG emissions, becomes clear
from the following facts:
(1) The global development of total forest
area and even more so of wood reserves is
declining. In the period 2000 to 2017 alone,
the global forest area has decreased by a net
3.35 million km2, or 8.4 %. However, ex-
ploitation of the wood reserves of the re-
maining primary forests remains high, so
that the global wood biomass stock is pro-
gressively decreasing; the largest losses of
area are currently taking place in the tropical
and boreal primary forests (WD 2019, FAO &
UNEP 2020, WRI 2020, UN 2021). In Part 1 of
this article (Luick et al. 2021) we pointed out
the massive losses of the last primeval for-
ests in Europe, especially in the Carpathians,
which is also partly caused by demand from
German markets.
(2) Due to the growth in the world’s popu-
lation and the promotion of additional wood
use in many places, demand will continue to
increase (Bringenzu et al. 2021). The global
supply of raw wood has increased by approx-
imately 0.85 % per year over the past 20
years and is estimated to grow from 4 billion
m3 per year today to 6 billion m
3
per year be-
tween 2020 and 2050, assuming no political
or disaster-related corrections (Barua et al.
2014, FAO 2021).
(3) Losses due to forest fires are increasing
as a result of climate change and increased
forest exploitation in connection with illegal
slash-and-burn. Between 2017 and 2020, ap-
proximately 50 million hectares of forest
were burned worldwide (Statista 2020). Love-
joy & Nobre (2018) assess the dramatic for-
est losses in the Amazon basin as a global
tipping point of the Earth’s climate system.
(4) Climate change exposes forests to in-
creasing drought stress (Fig. 14); driving fac-
tors are rising temperatures, increased at-
mospheric evaporative demand and region-
ally decreasing summer precipitation (e.g.,
Allen et al. 2010, Schuldt et al. 2020, Walth-
ert et al. 2021). In many regions, such as the
Canadian and US Rocky Mountains, forests
are already affected by forest degradation
over large areas (including Negrón & Cain
2018, Walker et al. 2019, Welch 2020). The
general consequence is declining vitality and
productivity, and damage in dry years with
mostly slow recovery of the stands, which
particularly affects the productive tree spe-
cies. This became clear in Central Europe dur-
ing the extreme dry period 2018–2020. For
this reason, statements that suggest contin-
ued significant growth in wood stocks,
based on the Forest Inventory 3 (BWI 3), must
be critically scrutinized (BMEL 2018). On the
contrary, increased felling and the effects of
climate change could lead in the longer term
to declining wood reserves. The effects on
the CO2 storage and sink functions of soils
are another issue that has not even been
modelled yet.
All of the above developments reduce the
existing forest biomass and the C-sink ca-
pacity of forests.
7 Conclusions
In our two-part essay, we have made the
case for:
(1) ensuring the protection of the last rem-
nants of European primeval forests and nat-
ural forests;
(2) integrating natural process conserva-
tion areas more strongly into German man-
aged forests, taking into account ecological
and nature conservation criteria;
(3) maintaining and strengthening the
positive climate protection functions of in-
tact forests; and
(4) revising the current political govern-
ance of wood utilization and making greater
use of domestic wood in products that are
associated with effective CO2 reduction.
The dispute about the value of primeval
and natural forests compared to managed
forests for the achievement of climate pro-
tection targets and biodiversity conservation
is about more than a misinterpretation of
the data as for example in Schulze et al.
(2020). Of central importance is the choice of
the reference system against which biodiver-
sity and the CO2 sink and storage function of
forests are measured. If this is a former man-
aged forest that was taken out of use only a
few years ago, it is natural that no signifi-
cant ecosystem services linked to long-term
forest dynamics will yet be visible.
Comparative studies of different forest
management systems can certainly be use-
ful for answering certain questions; however,
they do not provide any valid conclusions as
to (1) the effect of taking a forest out of use
on its biodiversity and (2) the impact on the
achievement of climate protection goals.
Such comparisons are particularly dubious,
if political decisions on the future intensity
Fig. 12: On forest sites with complete clearing, including clearing of stumps and processing with a forest
mulcher in preparation for planting, nutrient deficiencies can occur in the next forest generation. In addi-
tion, large amounts of CO2 are emitted in a short space of time, which are only compensated for by plant
sequestration after many decades. The photo shows a clearing of a dead spruce stand in southwestern Ba-
den-Württemberg in the district of Konstanz; reforestation with spruce and Douglas fir is planned.
Photo: Rain er Luick (2021)
32 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 54 (01) | 2022
Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests – part 2 DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2022.01.02.e
Originalarbeit
of forest land use are derived from them.
The survival of the remaining European
primeval forests and natural forests compris-
ing less than 3 % of the total forest area is
closely linked to the utilization of wood in
Europe, since market opportunities and the
politically driven promotion of the demand
for wood are essential driving forces for the
intensive logging even of the last remnants
of Europe’s primeval forests and natural for-
ests. The understanding of the biodiversity
and climate protection implications of differ-
ent types of forest use presented in the two
parts of this paper is intended to support ef-
forts to objectify the discussion of forest
policy and, at the same time, to draw atten-
tion to the urgent need for action to protect
Europe’s last primeval and natural forests.
In our opinion, the current forestry man-
agement targets of both the German govern-
ment and the EU are too strongly oriented
towards the market demand for wood and
timber. It is not helpful to justify these prior-
ities in terms of climate protection, as is also
done in the Federal Government’s recently
presented Forest Strategy 2050 (BMEL
2021b). Forestry policy today is still reliant
on future increases in wood consumption. It
overlooks the partly adverse effect on green-
house gas emissions and fails to recognize
that climate change is already imposing bio-
logical limits on ambitious production tar-
gets in the German forest. As with other fi-
nite resources, it is necessary to realize that
in view of global population growth, a reduc-
tion in individual wood consumption is inev-
itable, both in Germany and worldwide. The
sooner this is recognized politically and so-
cially, the less damage will be caused by
overexploited forests and the loss of bio-
diversity.
In addition, existing national and interna-
tional obligations to protect (forest) bio-
diversity must be fulfilled in a manner con-
sistent with climate protection. The global
threat to forest biodiversity is an existential
threat of comparable magnitude to the glob-
al climate crisis, as forest ecosystems are
home to an estimated 70 % of global spe-
cies. There is no doubt that in Germany as
well as at the EU level, there are considerable
deficits in the implementation of initiatives
to protect (forest) biodiversity – in contrast
to climate protection, which today engages
the highest political echelons.
In particular, the use of wood for energy,
as widely practiced today, must be corrected
in order to reduce the pressures on the for-
est. Wood that is burned today or used for
low-grade materials has stored CO2 from, on
average, 70 to 120 years of photosynthesis,
and it would take (theoretically) the same
amount of time to fix this amount again at
the point of extraction. Even if substitution
effects from the avoidance of fossil fuels are
included, a positive balance (if any) can only
be expected decades into the future. This is
in marked contrast to the radical CO2 emis-
sion reductions that will be needed in the
coming three decades. This fact must be
taken into account when assessing wood
products and their GHG impact. The use of
wood for energy should therefore be restrict-
ed and guided by clear specifications and
standards.
There is an urgent need to set a new
course in forest policy, especially in the fol-
lowing areas:
Box 2: The Thermal Utilization of Wood
In recent years, there has been a significant
increase in the use of wood for energy in EU
countries. In Germany in particular, this de-
velopment has been and continues to be
promoted by political measures such as the
Market Incentive Programme and the Rene-
wable Energy Sources Act. In the context of
the Green Deal and the new EU climate tar-
gets (see also Box 1), a further increase in
wood use for energy is likely. The EU Com-
mission has announced that it will pass a
series of laws to adapt existing EU climate
and energy legislation such as the RED as
soon as possible; this may already be the
case in full or in part by the time this artic-
le is published.
In Germany, investment in the production
of “renewable” heat from biomass combus-
tion (essentially, wood burning) already
amounted to 40 % of total investments in
heat generation in 2019 (FNR 2020). Moreo-
ver, co-combustion of wood in coal-fired po-
wer plants or a complete conversion of coal-
fired plants to wood burning can currently
be counted towards achieving climate tar-
gets. We consider this incentive system to be
misguided, for the reasons outlined above.
The developments that have already
been triggered with this accounting me-
thod are illustrated by examples from Den-
mark and Great Britain. In the Avedøre po-
wer plant near Copenhagen (Fig. 13), bio-
mass (wood pellets) is burned as an energy
source in a furnace with a capacity of
550 MW. On the company’s website it is
stated that they undertake CO2-neutral
energy production and that the conversion
of the power plant to biomass is one of the
most important means for Copenhagen to
achieve CO2-neutrality by 2025 (Ørsted
2016). Another large-scale wood-fired pow-
er plant is also located in the greater
Copenhagen area, on the island of Amagar.
There, two furnaces with a combined
630 MW are fired with wood pellets and
wood chips. The large Studstrup power
plant with a capacity of 700 MW is located
near Aarhus in Jutland. Unit 3 at Studstrup
has an output of 350 MW and is fired exclu-
sively with wood biomass. The largest bio-
mass (wood) fired power plant in Europe is
Drax in North Yorkshire in the UK. In four
units with a combined capacity of 2.6 GW,
approximately 7 million t of biomass (wood
pellets) are fired annually. For this power
plant alone, the UK can claim credit for a
mitigation of about 90 million t of CO2 per
year towards Paris climate goals. The main
sources of wood pellets for the power
plants in Denmark and the UK are the sou-
thern states of the USA, Canada, the Baltic
states and Russia. Other large-scale ther-
mal power plants based on wood biomass
are located in the Netherlands and Belgi-
um. In many other European coal-fired po-
wer plants, wood is co-fired in order to sta-
tistically improve the CO2 accounts. A re-
cent essay in The New Yorker magazine
(2021) reveals, via a visitor‘s tour of the
Drax power plant, the construct of the false
norm of climate neutrality of such wood
energy use: „The Millions of tons of Carbon
Emissions that don‘t officially exist“.
In the course of the coal phase-out, seve-
ral operators of coal-fired power plants in
Germany are also considering converting
their power plants to wood biomass. The
Onyx coal-fired power plant in Wilhelmsha-
ven, for example, is planning to convert to
wood biomass combustion, among other
things to supply electricity for hydrogen
production. There are also plans for the
Onyx power plant in Bremen-Farge to burn
wood instead of coal. Estimates suggest
the power plant in Wilhelmshaven alone
would require more than 2 million t of
wood pellets per year after conversion (We-
serKurier 2020, RobinWood 2021).
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(1) The establishment of so-called “no-go-
area” regulations for the forestry sector, in
particular the renunciation of logging in pri-
meval and natural forests, as is already stip-
ulated in RED II in the case of biofuel pro-
duction. There, it states that areas with a
high value for biodiversity and with higher
carbon stocks are taboo. This would have
the additional benefit of automatically pre-
venting attempts to count wood burning
from such biologically valuable forest
stands towards the achievement of LULUCF
climate goals.
(2) Establishment of nationally defined cri-
teria for limiting the use of stemwood for
energy purposes, especially in the case of
electricity generation in power plants. The
sustainable use of a large part of Europe’s
forests undoubtedly makes sense for reasons
of environmental protection and resource
conservation, provided that effective and
verifiable environmental standards are ob-
served. However, it may be more effective for
climate protection not to direct wood into
environmentally damaging pathways in the
first place but rather to leave it in the forest,
in stands that are resilient to climate change
and which can increase carbon storage there;
in many cases, this is also likely to have
positive effects on biodiversity.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank Dr. Hannes Böttcher,
Dr. Anke Höltermann, László Maráz, Dr. Peter
Meyer, Judith Reise, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Albert
Reif and Sabine Stein for their critical review
of the manuscript and valuable contribu-
tions.
Literature
For reasons of comprehensiveness, the de-
tailed bibliography is available under web-
code NuL2231.
Conclusions for Practice
The use of stem wood for energy and for
short-life products, as widely practiced to-
day, is largely inefficient in terms of achiev-
ing GHG reduction targets and involves
further negative environmental impacts. If
the change in the forest sink caused by
such use is included in the GHG accounts,
the direct combustion of stem wood leads
to only small to zero GHG reductions com-
pared to the fossil fuel baseline.
Residual wood, wood-like production
waste and wood that is not suitable for
material recycling for quality reasons can
be sensibly used for energy, if this is done
in efficient plants, e.g. in municipal heat-
ing networks. The same applies to the end
use of wood after sustainable material
conversion. However, the potentials in
Germany are limited and in some regions
are already exhausted.
The use of wood for energy – especially
the import of pellets and wood chips from
whole trees for use in electricity produc-
tion – must be regulated and must not be
creditable as a greenhouse gas-reducing
measure in GHG accounting.
Wood that remains in the forest in the
form of living trees or deadwood can
make at least as great, and often even
more positive, a contribution to climate
protection than when used for energy and
inefficient materials. The prerequisite is
the establishment of stable forest stands.
The share of harvested wood that flows
into long-life products and thus increases
the wood product reservoir should be
urgently increased. The development of
innovative wood-based materials from
hardwood (especially beech) and the
promotion of the use and marketing of
these materials make a decisive contri-
bution to this.
Instrumentalizing the forest as the key
to combating climate change, as proposed
by some actors in the form of a “forest-
construction pump” of carbon dioxide,
we consider unrealistic and even harmful
in view of the rapidly increasing global
demand for wood, as this will inevitably
lead to more logging in the remaining
primeval and natural forests.
The Forestry and Wood Cluster along with
national and European forest policy must
come to the realization that although
wood is a renewable raw material, it is
nevertheless a resource with limited avail-
ability. The increasing drought and heat
stress on the forest due to climate change
calls into question the high production
targets in the German forest, since at
present not only spruce, silver fir and
beech, but also highly productive conifers
such as Douglas fir have proven to be
climate sensitive in many locations.
Photo: Eckhard Jedicke (2020)
Fig. 13: The most important strategy on the way to
“climate neutrality” in Denmark is the use of wood
as an energy source. In recent years, numerous
power plants for electricit y production have been
converted to burn wood and are partly operated
on a mono-firing or co-firing basis using wood
biomass. The wood mostly comes from large clear-
cuts from countries such as the southern states
of the USA, Canada, the Baltic states and Russia.
The picture shows the Avedøre power plant near
Copenhagen (see also Box 2).
Fig. 14: Climate change-induced drought stress
causes widespread death of forests, as in this
spruce forest in the Eggegebirge. This increasingly
calls into question the assumption that wood
reser ves in forests will steadily continue to grow.
Photo: Rain er Luick (2013)
1413
34 NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung | 54 (01) | 2022
Rainer Luick et al., Biodiversity, carbon sink and storage of forests – part 2 DOI: 10.1399/NuL.2022.01.02.e
Originalarbeit
Prof. Dr. Rainer Luick teaches
and researches at the Hoch-
schule für Forstwirtschaft Rot-
tenburg. Studied biology (focus
on geobotany and plant physio-
logy) and ethnology at the Al-
bert-Ludwigs-University Frei-
burg (Dipl.-Biol. / Magister) and
Evolutionary Biology at the Uni-
versity of Michigan / Ann Arbor / USA (M.Sc.); PhD
Dr. sc. agr. University of Hohenheim; many years of
work in private water management and landscape
planning. Since 1999 Professor of Nature Conserva-
tion and Landscape Management at the Rottenburg
University of Applied Forest Sciences. Main research
interests: natural processes in rural areas, agricultu-
ral, nature conservation and regional policy, extensi-
ve land use systems, technology assessments for
the energy transition and commitment to the pro-
tection of the last European primeval forests.
> luick@hs-rottenburg.de
Dr. Klaus Hennenberg works as
Senior Researcher at the Öko-In-
stitut e. V. in Darmstadt. Stu-
died biology at the University of
Göttingen (diploma); energy &
environment (focus on rational
energy use) at the University of
Kassel (master); Ph.D. Dr. rer.
nat. at the University of Rostock
within the German-African research network BIOTA
AFRICA (Biodiversity Monitoring Transect Analysis in
Africa). Since 2007 Senior Researcher in the field of
energy and climate protection at Öko-Institut e.V.
Working and research interests: sustainability issues
in forest management and bioenergy production,
assessment of certification schemes, modeling of
GHG emissions in the LULUCF sector.
> k.hennenberg@oeko.de
KON TAK T
Prof. Dr. Christoph Leuschner
teaches and researches at
the Georg-August-Universität
Göttingen, Department of Plant
Ecology, Albrecht-von-Haller-
Institut für Pflanzenwissen-
schaften. Studied biology at
the universities of Freiburg and
Göttingen. Doctorate and
habilitation in Plant Ecology at the University of
Göt tingen. 1996–2000 Professor of Ecology at the
University of Kassel; since 2000 Professor of Plant
Ecology at the University of Göttingen. Member
of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences. Research
interests: ecology of temperate and tropical trees
and forests, climate change effects on forests, im-
portance of primeval forests for forest biodiversity,
condition and protection of agricultural biodiversity
in cropland and grassland.
> cleusch@gwdg.de
Dipl.-Ing. Manfred Grossmann, Head of the Natio-
nal Park Hainich, Bad Langensalza.
> manfred.grossmann@nnl.thueringen.de
Prof. Dr. Eckhard Jedicke, Hochschule Geisenheim
University, Kompetenzzentrum Kulturlandschaft,
Professor of Landscape Development.
> eckhard.jedicke@hs-gm.de
Dr. Nicolas Schoof, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Frei-
burg, Professor of Site Classification and Vegetation
Science.
> nicolas.schoof@waldbau.uni-freiburg.de
Dr. Thomas Waldenspuhl, Head of the National Park
Schwarzwald, Seebach.
> thomas.waldenspuhl@nlp.bwl.de
54 (01) | 2022 | NATURSCHUTZ und Landschaftsplanung 35
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www.nul-online.de 10
... In 2021 the German Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR) estimated that bioenergy as a whole could potentially meet around 23% of Germany's total energy demand in 2050 [19]. The agency estimated that around 3% of total demand (210 petajoules (PJ)) could be covered by wood harvested for energy purposes ( Figure 3.12 » Using wood for energy and in short-life wood products "usually leads to little or no reduction in GHG emissions compared to the fossil fuel benchmark" [172]. ...
... » "Wood that remains in the forest in the form of living trees or deadwood can make at least as great and often even greater a contribution to climate protection than when it is used for energy and inefficient materials" [172]. ...
... Burning harvested wood is not a good use of our limited supply, especially in light of the climate crisis and considering that burning wood emits carbon, whereas material use sequesters it. Nationally defined criteria are needed to limit the use of stemwood for energy purposes, in particular for electricity generation [172]. Wood products for a certain amount of time could continue to provide energy when reuse and recycling options have been exhausted (see "Cascades and reuse" in Chapter 5). ...
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Drought responses of mature trees are still poorly understood making it difficult to predict species distributions under a warmer climate. Using mature European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.), a widespread and economically important tree species in Europe, we aimed at developing an empirical stress-level scheme to describe its physiological response to drought. We analysed effects of decreasing soil and leaf water potential on soil water uptake, stem radius, native embolism, early defoliation and crown dieback with comprehensive measurements from overall nine hydrologically distinct beech stands across Switzerland, including records from the exceptional 2018 drought and the 2019/2020 post-drought period. Based on the observed responses to decreasing water potential we derived the following five stress levels: I (predawn leaf water potential >−0.4 MPa): no detectable hydraulic limitations; II (−0.4 to −1.3): persistent stem shrinkage begins and growth ceases; III (−1.3 to −2.1): onset of native embolism and defoliation; IV (−2.1 to −2.8): onset of crown dieback; V (<−2.8): transpiration ceases and crown dieback is >20%. Our scheme provides, for the first time, quantitative thresholds regarding the physiological downregulation of mature European beech trees under drought and therefore synthesises relevant and fundamental information for process-based species distribution models. Moreover, our study revealed that European beech is drought vulnerable, because it still transpires considerably at high levels of embolism and because defoliation occurs rather as a result of embolism than preventing embolism. During the 2018 drought, an exposure to the stress levels III-V of only one month was long enough to trigger substantial crown dieback in beech trees on shallow soils. On deep soils with a high water holding capacity, in contrast, water reserves in deep soil layers prevented drought stress in beech trees. This emphasises the importance to include local data on soil water availability when predicting the future distribution of European beech.