New report analyses CO₂ uptake by different types of woodlands

5 August 2022

A new report analysing CO₂ uptake by forestry shows that a diverse range of woodland types can all make a significant contribution over a 100 year period.

In the shorter term of around 30 years, faster growing conifer plantations soak up the highest levels of CO₂. Over a longer period, other types of woodlands – including native broadleaves and naturally regenerated woodlands – start to achieve comparable levels of CO₂ uptake.

Twelve different types of woodlands were analysed in this new research, thought to be the most definitive of its kind in the UK.

Commenting on the report which was produced by the Forest Research Agency, Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said:

“In Scotland we have an ambitious commitment to reach Net Zero by 2045. Expanding our forests and woodlands is key to achieving this as these trees will soak up harmful CO₂ from the atmosphere.

“Currently, Scotland’s trees are sequestering 7.6 million tonnes of CO₂ each year, the equivalent of 14% of our gross greenhouse gas emissions. This demonstrates clearly how important our woodland expansion plans are in fighting climate change.

“Our forests and woodlands are also vital in tackling another global crisis. Our woodlands are helping many forms of biodiversity thrive and are therefore crucial in helping reverse the damaging effects of nature loss.

“This is why the Scottish Government is striving to create a balance of different types of woodlands. In this way we can tackle these twin global crises, and at the same time provide other important benefits to communities and the economy.

“We need to fully understand the most up-to-date evidence on how we can get the best out of our forests for the future. This new piece of research will be of great benefit to foresters to help them do just that.”

The Quantifying the Sustainable Forestry Carbon Cycle report is a technical ‘state-of-the-art’ analysis of CO₂ uptake by woodlands over time.

The woodland options examined in the report show that planting a hectare of lightly managed broadleaf woodland would result in an average CO₂ uptake of 1.3tCO₂ per year until 2050, and that a hectare of moderately growing coniferous woodland would soak up 4.9tCO₂ per year for the same period.

Over the period from 2022-2100, average annual CO₂ uptake from these broadleaf and conifer woodlands would rise to 5.7tCO₂ and 6.7tCO₂ respectively. These figures include carbon stored in wood products from harvested woodlands.

High-yielding sites for coniferous production, and the addition of potential avoided emissions through using wood products, would increase these rates substantially.

Good woodland design and management are critical to achieving early carbon uptake, for example by avoiding disturbance to soil and existing vegetation when planting. This is particularly the case for woodlands where the trees have relatively slow growth rates.

A further and fuller assessment report will be released later in 2022 and Scottish Forestry and Forest Research plan to hold stakeholder events to share and explain the analysis in more depth.

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Pending Issuance Unit: A promise to deliver a Woodland Carbon Unit during a given period, based on the trees’ predicted growth Woodland Carbon Unit: A ton of carbon dioxide which has been sequestered in a scheme verified under the Woodland Carbon Code