Forests and forest management contribute to the Federal Government’s sustainability goals

Forest management contributes to achieving the Federal Government’s sustainability goals. Like no other area, forest management is geared towards the requirements of future generations. The total forest area and the stocks of biomass and timber have been increasing for years despite being used.

A range of different kinds of added value provided by forests due to sustainable forestry

Forests in Germany are managed and used in a sustainable manner. It is always ensured that less timber is taken than can grow back. Sustainability in forest management includes all services and functions of forests. Moreover, wood as a renewable resource has an excellent balance sheet in respect of the environment and climate. The forests, and the sustainable use of the timber they produce, remove about 127 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere each year, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation. In addition, our forests provide jobs and an income for more than 1 million people, above all in rural regions. At the same time, forests are home to many protected animals and plants. Forests protect against floods and clean the water. They are natural air conditioners, air purifiers and places of rest and recreation.

Climate change mitigation effects of forests and timber

Forests and the use of timber from sustainable forestry management are good for the climate: in relation to the year 2014, German greenhouse gas emissions would have been around 14 percent higher without the climate impact of forests and wood.

Around 1,2 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the biomass of sustainably managed forests in Germany, and are thereby removed long-term from the natural carbon cycle. In addition, German forests bind a further 58 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year due to the percentage of forest growth that is left unused. However, due to the climate change induced disturbances (storms, drought and insect outbreaks) 2018 and 2019 and the age structure of German forests, their capacity to store carbon is projected to decrease.

Wood replaces energy-intensive products

Forests and timber reinforce the positive impact on the climate due to the so-called substitution effect:

  • less energy is needed to produce wood-based products (for instance furniture or building components) than to produce comparable products from other materials. The Thünen Institute estimates that the substitution effect in the materials industry amounts to around another 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.
  • Wood as a power source can replace fossil energy sources. In the energetic sector, it is estimated that the emission balance of renewable energy resources results in savings of approximately 36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

Wood is Germany’s most important renewable raw material. Wood can already replace energy-intensive, finite materials and oil-based, fossil resources on a large scale – for instance in construction, in day-to-day life and in a completely new range of applications. The climate impact of forests and wood shows that the use of more timber from sustainable forestry represents an active contribution to climate change mitigation and to the conservation of finite resources by everyone.

Sustainable forestry integrates nature conservation

Sustainable forest management includes the conservation of biodiversity. German forests are well-positioned in this area. The “Species diversity and landscape quality” indicator in the National Biodiversity Strategy shows an 87 percent target achievement level for forests, which is the highest value of all sub-indicators. This is one of the major achievements of sustainable forest management.

Nevertheless, it remains an ambitious goal to further improve and conserve specific forest biotopes and species that are dependent on micro habitats on big, old trees and dead wood (such as bats and numerous insect and fungus species), since many external factors put a strain on the biological diversity. These include, for instance, substance inputs, climate change, invasive alien species or isolation due to an ever increasing number of streets and other infrastructure.

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) therefore supports integrative approaches for the protection of biological diversity in forests in Germany and Europe. These include, for instance, the following measures:

  • INTEGRATE, the Europe-wide forest conservation network, deals with smart concepts to support biodiversity conservation in forest management by e.g. promoting micro habitats for typical and often endangered forest types during timber harvesting in an economically and ecologically optimised manner. Examples include bark damage, tree hollows and deadwood. More than 140 exemplary designated forest areas have been chosen from across Europe as teaching and demonstration sites with scientific and digital support. At these sites, environmental and forest experts, along with school pupils and the interested public, can engage in an exchange and learn from each other – based on specific facts and, first and foremost, hands-on experience in the forest.
  • The measures supported under the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection (GAK) include schemes for near-natural forest conversion. The Federal Government and the Länder invest approximately 24 million euro per year in these schemes. The stability of forests is increased by converting major areas of single tree species stands of coniferous trees to multi-level, structurally diverse mixed stands of deciduous and coniferous tree species. Site-adapted mixed stands are also best suited to cope with climate change.
  • The Federal Government provides approximately 19.5 million euro per year to the Forest Climate Fund in order to promote measures to adapt German forests to climate change, secure carbon storage, increase the CO2 binding capacity of forests and develop the CO2 reduction, energy and substitution potential of forests and wood.

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