A recent report published by the Finnish Environment Institute examines the climate impacts of using wood to generate energy. Bioenergy can replace fossil fuels, which are more harmful for the climate.
Sensible climate policies should encourage increasing forest growth and wood utilisation.
When wood is burned to generate energy, the carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere a little faster than if the wood was left to rot in the forest. However, a slight speed-up to the natural carbon cycle is better that using fossil fuels. Fossil fuels release carbon that has not been in the atmosphere over hundreds of millions of years. Burning fossil fuels leads to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide content and global warming. Producing renewable energy by burning forest residue is sustainable from the climate and environment perspectives because the released carbon is rebound by growing forests.
Processable wood should not, however, be burned to generate energy if it can be used in carbon-storing products. Forest energy should be produced from wood that is unsuitable for use as product raw material and would otherwise be left to rot in the forest. Increased utilisation of wood for products also brings more forest residue available for energy use.
Forest residue is collected as a by-product of timber harvesting and forestry. The utilisation of forest residue is sensible because it can be done without changes to land use or deforestation. Using forest residue does not compete with food production, nor require using irrigation water or pesticides.
The EU demands that renewables account for 38% of all energy consumption in Finland by 2020. The share of renewable energy in Finland can be increased the most sustainably and cost-effectively along with thriving pulp, paper and wood product industry. Achieving the climate objectives is not possible without increased energy utilisation of forest biomass. Using more forest residue will also lead to a substantial rise in the degree of Finland's self-sufficiency in energy production.
The capacity of Finland's forests to bind carbon has almost doubled over the last 20 years. This increase is due to the good forest management. Active forestry will continue to promote the growth also in the future. This is crucial for maintaining forest carbon sinks and for enabling the collection of more forest residue for energy utilisation. Increased forest growth is also the key to producing more wood products.