At the end of May, Statistics Finland published instant preliminary data of Finland's greenhouse gas emissions and sinks in 2021. According to this data, Finland's forests are still a carbon sink, but the size of the sink is considerably smaller than in previous years. As emissions from other land use categories*) were higher than the sink from forests, the land use sector as a whole became a net source of emissions for the first time. The issue has sparked much public debate on how Finland can now meet its 2035 carbon neutrality target and EU obligations related to climate change mitigation
The change in the size of the net forest carbon sink is mainly due to a reduction in the annual growth rate of stemwood, which has been taken into account in the instant preliminary data. In addition, the higher level of harvesting in 2021 compared to recent years also had an impact. In 2021, a total of 76 million cubic metres of wood was harvested in Finland, the annual forest growth being 103 million cubic metres.
Multiple actions are crucial
Although the result is based on instant preliminary data**), which is calculated at a less detailed level than the data used for official inventory calculation, the result must be taken seriously. Multiple and various measures to increase carbon sequestration and reduce emissions from the land use sector are needed. The key is to strengthen forest growth and maintain forest health. This can be achieved, for example, through timely tending of seedling standard fertilisation and by following forest management recommendations in fellings and other forestry operations. For example, more than one million hectares are still waiting for tending of seedling standard first thinning, which represents a significant proportion of Finland's total growing forest area. According to a scenario calculated by the Natural Resources Institute Finland, it is possible to increase annual forest growth by up to 150 million cubic metres by improving forest management.
Optimising the age structure of forests is an important factor in increasing the carbon sink of forests. In Northern Finland, for example, commercial forests are in some places so old that their growth has slowed down. Metsä Group’s Kemi bioproduct mill, which is under construction, will create additional demand for thinning wood and thus contributes to developing the age structure of forests in a direction with increased carbon sequestration
It is also essential to increase measures to reduce soil emissions and deforestation and to boost the manufacturing of products which store carbon for a long time. Emissions from peat soils, peatland forests and peat production areas can be rapidly reduced, for example through restoration and afforestation and with a shift to continuous cover forestry in areas suited for this method.
Metsä Group is actively investing in the future. Our products replace fossil materials and reduce fossil emissions, which is an important global climate action. We are increasing the production capacity of long-life wood products which have carbon-storing benefits. Skilled forest management, comprehensive forest certification and our voluntary ecological sustainability and naturel management programmes that safeguard forest health, growth and biodiversity are now needed more than ever.
*) Land use categories include forest land, cropland, grassland, wetlands, settlements and other land. Harvested wood products are included in LULUCF greenhouse gas calculations as carbon storage.
**) Preliminary data of the statistics 2021 on greenhouse gases will be released in December 2022 and official data in March 2023.