The flash estimate of Statistics Finland on the greenhouse gas emissions of the Finnish land use sector caused a stir at the end of May. The overall sink of the landuse sector had turned into a source of emissions. Forests continue to be a significant sink. However, the reduced growth of forests has played a role in cutting back the forest sink.

Even though the figures reported in the flash estimate may still change, the situation is challenging and requires action. Because of this change, we need impactful measures to reduce the emissions of the land use sector and increase forest growth.

What exactly happened in 2021? The woodland sink decreased and the sink of wood products increased, while there were very few changes anywhere else. The first and last point are bad news.

There are several reasons for the reduced woodland sink. Forest sinks go up or down each year as a result of commercial felling. However, a key change took place in the annual growth of stemwood which, according to the most recent results of the National Forest Inventory, has decreased from about 108 million cubic meters to 103.2 million cubic meters.

The reduced growth of the tree stand stems from the changes in the age structure of the forests in Northern Finland in particular. After the war, wood materials were needed in large quantities. These forests, regenerated after the felling, have moved to a period of slower growth, and there are no rapidly growing, young production forests to compensate for the slowdown. If more forests had been regenerated inthe north in the 80s, for example, the situation of the sinks might be different. Moreover, researchers have estimated that changes in felling may also have stunted forest growth. The factors decreasing growth must be studied quickly in order to put the means to accelerate growth into practice sooner rather than later. At the same time, it is important to prevent deforestation.

Reducing soil emissions is also essential, both in agriculture and in forests. Forests with mineral soil are sinks, whereas peat soil forests are a source of emissions. Continuous-cover forestry can reduce soil emissions in peat soil forests suited for this method. However, the method is not suited for all peat soils, which means that identifying the best locations requires knowledge and skills.

Forest owners follow their own goals when making forestry decisions. Climate-sensible action often requires investments. Investments, in turn, require profitability and hope for the future. Undermining forest owners’ faith in the sensibility and significance of the forest economy, either nationally or at EU level, often results in fewer investments. This is immediately seen in the wood processing industry as well.

The Finnish Climate Change Panel instantly responded to the preliminary information concerning emissions in the LULUCF sector, calling for urgent measures to strengthen the net sink. The panel emphasised cutting back soil emissions, significantly reducing deforestation and promoting forest growth through fertilisation, for example. The Finnish Forest Industries supports all of these measures.

It is clear that the amounts of timber harvesting will continue fluctuating annually as a consequence of the global market. As a result, the climate policy of the land use sector must focus on measures not bound to global trends. In fact, this is what the climate plan for the land use sector, prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland, is based on. This is the time to not give up but to set up active measures promoting carbon sinks.