Resources for the Future seminar unpacks U.S. forest carbon

31 January 2014

by Erin Voegele

Resources for the Future hosted a seminar Jan. 29 focused on the issues of carbon accounting and forest management. The event, titled “Considering the Contributions of Forests in the Management of Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” was cosponsored by the Society of American Foresters.

Roger Sedjo, senior fellow and director of the Forest Economics and Policy Program at RFF, moderated the discussion. He opened the seminar by noting that since the onset of concerns about global warming, it has been recognized that forests can play an important role in the moderation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission.

He explained that forests can impact atmospheric carbon in two ways. First, they can expand and contract. When forests expand they sequester carbon, and when they contract they release carbon. As such, forest management can play an important role in policies designed to address these emissions. Second, forests can provide wood biomass that can be used as a substitute for non-renewable fossil fuels.

Sedjo noted that there has been a lot of policy discussion over how to account for biogenic carbon emissions generated at bioenergy facilities. One school of thought calls for each facility to be monitored separately. Another calls broader accounting methods.

“To me, some of the approaches to monitoring biogenic emission by facility have some wrong-headed elements,” Sedjo said.

He went on to explain that net emissions can be measured by looking at various individual wood energy facilities, or those changes can be monitored by looking at what happens to the overall stock of wood in the forest. “A huge advantage of the second approach is its low cost compared with detailed monitoring of individual facilities,” Sedjo said, noting the U.S. Forest Service already undertakes a forest inventory assessment that collects much of the data that is needed.

He added that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s accounting framework tends to address biogenic emissions within the context of the second approach, treating it as a land use issue and excluding biogenic emissions from the energy sector. “It is widely agreed that the IPCC approach would not work well for individual facilities, but the IPCC approach could work very well indeed when we are looking at very large regions.”

According to Sedjo, U.S. forest stock is currently expanding despite drawdowns for forest products and natural disturbances. He estimated that from 1960 to 2000, close to 2 million acres of forest were planted each year.

Read more from Biomass Magazine