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Pine tree seedlings at a tree nursery in Mafinga, United Republic of Tanzania.
©FAO/Luis Tato

Carbon storage and harvested wood products

Wood not only has a lower carbon footprint than other materials: it is also a “carbon sink”.

tree slice

The wood of a tree is composed of millions of carbon molecules, the by-products of photosynthesis. While the tree lives and breathes, it sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, storing it in its trunk and branches. Thanks to this ability to harvest and store carbon, trees are seen as a natural solution to fight climate change.

And while the notion may seem counterintuitive, using harvested wood products can also play a role in slowing climate change. When a tree is harvested, the carbon stays stored in the wood and in the products made from that wood. Seedlings planted to replace the harvested trees can then rapidly begin sequestering new carbon. Tree-planting initiatives such as 75 Trees for UN75 and the Billion Tree Campaign speak to this crucial function.

The role of FAO in quantifying carbon storage in harvested wood products

As custodian of the forest product statistics database, FAO has a particular interest in the topic of carbon storage in and the climate change mitigation potential of harvested wood products. Our data can be used to estimate the pool of carbon in harvested wood products including paper, sawnwood and wood panels. Accurate, precise, transparent and complete estimates of carbon storage in forest products, over time and by country, can underpin international agreements on managing greenhouse gas emissions, and help in identifying sustainable development strategies.

Estimating the climate change mitigation potential of harvested wood products serves decision-making and policy design across a range of sectors, from forest management to recycling programmes. It may help incentivize the production of certain products. It can facilitate decisions on whether to ship raw materials abroad for added value, or to build new production facilities at home. Improved capacity to quantify this potential is also apt to boost economic activity associated with the production and sale of sustainably sourced and produced wood products, in line with SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG 15.

book cover

FAO’s Forest Product Statistics unit supports countries and international organizations through our standardized data solicitation format; by storing and making publicly available the data needed to estimate carbon emissions related to harvested wood products; and through targeted capacity building. The unit has also developed tools to run simulations that assess the potential impacts of policy change on carbon emissions. There is further scope for FAO to expand analysis frameworks by including emerging wood products.

Counting carbon in recycled wood

Recycled wood is gaining popularity around the world. Beams and floors of centuries-old buildings are being repurposed for new uses, such as furniture, panelling or decorative elements. But counting the carbon stored within recycled materials risks double counting. The question is: In what ways can the carbon in these harvested wood products be counted in their first and in their second use? The answer: We are working on it.

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