Working Forests Serve as Natural Climate Change Solution

Jan 24, 2023 9:00 AM ET

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13, which urges action to combat climate change and its impacts, is arguably the most relevant UNSDG for Sappi. The pulp and paper sector ranks third in the manufacturing sector for energy consumption, according to the US Energy Information Administration. At the same time, trees—with their natural ability to sequester and store carbon—are the primary raw material used for the manufacture of pulp and paper, and they are identified as playing a key role in addressing climate change. The vital role of trees was evident at the fall 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, where 141 leaders committed to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, as outlined in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use.

The signatories noted “the critical and interdependent roles of forests … to help achieve a balance between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removal by sinks; to adapt to climate change; and to maintain other ecosystem services.” To say it is an exciting time to be in the wood products industry is an understatement.

Sappi is well positioned to make a difference. First, we continue to focus on reducing the energy intensity and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with our operations, as evidenced by two of our 2025 goals—to decrease specific total energy and specific GHG emissions—as well as by our commitment to the Science Based Targets initiative.

Second, we source our wood from North American regions that are climate healthy. The Forest Resources Association issues a carbon report for each state. In Maine, the forest carbon stocks have increased by 5% from 1990 to 2019, and in Minnesota by 8% over the same period.

The role of our forests in mitigating climate change is essential. However, that does not mean that forests should not be harvested. While forest preservation has a place, active forest management has a significant role to play—perhaps even more so in the face of climate change and the unique challenges that come with it, such as drought and pests, making forests even more vulnerable to significant devastation by wildfire. In both Maine and Minnesota, we may be reaching a biological tipping point. The University of Maine applied a metric for forest health, called “relative density,” to national inventory data. The hypothesis is that the greater the relative density of the forest, the more vulnerable it will be to the threats posed by a changing climate.

“Natural climate solutions” is the term used today to describe the forestry sector’s path forward. These include management actions such as conservation, restoration, and/or improved land management that increases carbon storage and/or avoids greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands.

Sappi recently participated in the Forest Solutions Group of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which released its first Forest Sector Net-Zero Roadmap report, Enabling the transition to a net-zero economy, at COP26. The report calls on policymakers, investors, and forest product customers to leverage the potential of sustainable working forests and their products in the transition to a net-zero economy.

Sarah Price, Sustainability Manager for Sappi Europe, who is actively engaged in the Forest Solutions Group effort, participated in a COP26 panel that highlighted the need for working forests to serve as natural climate solutions.

Sappi is committed to addressing SDG 13, and this story speaks to the mitigation of GHG emissions through working forests.