Środowiskowe seminarium fizyki atmosfery

Forest harvesting and climate and a public discourse

Prof. Timo Vesala

Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research/Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Helsinki, Finland


4 października 2019 13:15, ul. Pasteura 5, B0.14

We have participated in several acts of writings, public discourses and seminars concerning the effects of forest utilization on climate and biodiversity (e.g. EASAC 2017; EURACTIV 2017a, b). Writings include, among other things, long reports (multiple authors), newspaper columns and public letters (multiple authors). Finland is planning to increase substantially harvesting of timber, which leads, in the short-term (by mid 2000 century), increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Based on best available scientific understanding, these communications and writings have criticized these plans, which eventually lead to situation where the forest management actions in Finland are against the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement and endanger the present level of biodiversity.

The core of the criticism has been in the planned massive intensification of forest use as bioenergy, leading to increased harvests in the expense of carbon storage and sinks, and possibly even harvesting previously economically non-profitable stands with the help of government subsidies. This view has been based on the proposed carbon neutrality of forest biomass, however it is not accounting for e.g. the poor energy content of forest biomass in comparison to other energy sources, nor the climate relevant emissions from forest harvesting which last for decades after clear-cut. Therefore, the climate neutrality of forest-based bioenergy can be questioned.

The comments and feedback we have obtained have varied greatly, depending on the perspective of the commenting persons and organisations. The discussion fora for replies have ranged from social media to newspaper articles and policy debates in scientific arena. On the one hand, we have been acknowledged for participating in the important socio-economic debate, for bringing the scientific arguments to the discussion and for clarifying the complex problem, where the terms and concepts are sometimes presented very vaguely. On the other hand, we have been accused for, e.g., being extremely narrow-minded and biased, for forgetting the economic realities and being unpatriotic, in addition to presenting dangerous things towards Finland and the finnish pulp and paper industry. Our statements are blamed to be post-truth politics and representing green left values without scientific facts.

In this presentation we aim at clarifying the background of this public dialogue and argue that a scientists’ responsibility is to participate also in public debates that concern the research field (s)he is working with. Scientists are often in a position where they are able to provide strong scientific argumentation on the climate change questions, and thus effectively contribute to the policy-relevant dialogue.



EASAC (2017) Multi-functionality and sustainability in the European Union’s forests. EASAC policy report 32, April 2017. ISBN: 978-3-8047-3728-0

Euractiv (2017a) Science-based forest policies urgently needed for effective climate action. www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/opinion/science-based-forest-policies-urgently-needed-for-effective-climate-action/ 

Euractiv (2017b) EU’s climate credibility is at risk under forest accounting rules. www.euractiv.com/section/climate-environment/opinion/forest-accounting-rules-put-eus-climate-credibility-at-risk/