Report

Europe’s forest management did not mitigate climate warming

Science  05 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6273, pp. 597-600
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad7270

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Europe's managed forests contribute to warming

For most of the past 250 years, surprisingly it seems that Europe's managed forests have been a net source of carbon, contributing to climate warming rather than mitigating it. Naudts et al. reconstructed the history of forest management in Europe in the context of a land-atmosphere model. The release of carbon otherwise stored in litter, dead wood, and soil carbon pools in managed forests was one key factor contributing to climate warming. Second, the conversion of broadleaved forests to coniferous forests has changed the albedo and evapotranspiration of those forests, also leading to warming. Thus, climate change mitigation policies in Europe and elsewhere may need to consider changes in forest management.

Science, this issue p. 597

Abstract

Afforestation and forest management are considered to be key instruments in mitigating climate change. Here we show that since 1750, in spite of considerable afforestation, wood extraction has led to Europe’s forests accumulating a carbon debt of 3.1 petagrams of carbon. We found that afforestation is responsible for an increase of 0.12 watts per square meter in the radiative imbalance at the top of the atmosphere, whereas an increase of 0.12 kelvin in summertime atmospheric boundary layer temperature was mainly caused by species conversion. Thus, two and a half centuries of forest management in Europe have not cooled the climate. The political imperative to mitigate climate change through afforestation and forest management therefore risks failure, unless it is recognized that not all forestry contributes to climate change mitigation.

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