What is sustainable forestry – and why is it critical in mitigating against climate change?
Sustainable forestry is about caring for the long-term resilience of forests and is often wrongly associated with the environmentally and socially destructive practice of deforestation. Deforestation is one of the largest contributors to climate change because when trees are lost to forest fires or die and decay due to insects or disease without proper regeneration, the stored carbon is permanently released into the atmosphere. Forests are considered carbon sinks, because as trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air, converting it into plant matter by way of photosynthesis. It’s well-documented that the destruction of these naturally occurring carbon sinks is detrimental to our environment and the balance of global temperatures. The commitment made in November 2022 at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) is evidence of this significance, with leaders representing over 85% of the world’s forests pledging to halve and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.
Deforestation vs Sustainable Forestry: Understanding the difference
Humans have a long relationship with forests. The practice of clearing natural forests dated from the Neolithic period where the transition from hunter gatherer to farmer began. From then to now, forestry has played a critical role in our societies and managed forests have become part of our cultural landscape, especially in Europe where they are the predominant source of wood fibre. Over the last 30 years (1990-2020), the forests of Europe (EU-27) have been growing, increasing by 10% in terms of area, and over 42% in terms of growing stock, despite increased rates of forest calamities. The environmental, social and economic benefits of sustainable working forests can have a lasting positive impact for both people and our planet. But what is sustainable forestry and why is it so important?
Sustainable forestry means regenerating and managing forests to provide important natural resources, such as wood and biomass. This can be done by ensuring harvesting does not exceed annual growth, supporting regeneration naturally or via replanting, and enabling growing forests to reach maturity. Sustainable working forests include well-designed conservation networks and other measures, thus supporting biodiversity and other ecosystem services.
Implementing practices that can support the regeneration of forests, such as thinning (the process of felling a portion of a forest to aid health and growth), can help to protect forests from natural disturbances while ensuring a sustained supply of resources. At a time when our planet is undergoing ecological stress and we grapple with acute socio-economic issues, maximising the benefits of well-managed forests is essential. Deforestation, however, does not take this balance into account and results in the permanent loss of tree cover as forests are converted to other land uses.
The growing socio-economic case for sustainable forestry
Forests are not only critical to the health of our planet in absorbing carbon, they also regulate freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers. In addition, they offer shelter, food and fuel security. They provide a source of subsistence for 350 million people worldwide and over 1.6 billion livelihoods depend on forests (FAO and WWF).
Increased focus on sustainability and circularity puts forest products into the spotlight. Ensuring sustainable forestry and reforestation techniques can support the use of essential products that don’t contribute to deforestation and global warming as they are based on renewable material. In the Forest Products sector, we have long track record of being a leader in sustainable initiatives, beginning with sustainable forestry practices that have greatly contributed to increased forest cover in Europe compared to 30, 50 or even 100 years ago along through to the circularity of the pulp, paper and board manufacturing processes that aim to re-use resources in a (near) closed loop.
The socio-economic value of forests is clear, with the overall value of forest services estimated at $33 trillion per year (Rainforest Alliance). The time to scale the practice of responsible forest management is now, with more than half of annual GDP ($44 trillion) potentially threatened by nature loss (World Economic Forum). If we continue to permanently remove the planet’s forests, we will lose out on the products and resources produced by them and, furthermore, we will continue the rapid decline of biodiversity in our ecosystems.
Mondi’s commitment to sustainable forestry
We promote best practice sustainable forestry management to tackle the climate crisis, considering all socio-economic and environmental issues potentially impacting our supply chain. Our partnership with the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) aims to better understand climate change impacts on and challenges for forests and the forest-based industry; identify response measures in line with maximum contribution to the SDGs, particularly to climate change mitigation and adaptation, people’s livelihoods and biodiversity conservation; and serve as catalysts for widespread collaboration and partnership between the private sector and research. CDP, the leading disclosure not-for-profit organisation, has recognised Mondi as a leader in sustainable forestry practices, achieving a top ‘A’ grade from a field of 15,000 companies. We prioritise the sourcing of our wood from domestic suppliers, which contributes to the local economies, keeps our supply chains resilient and allows for shorter transportation distances with lower GHG emissions. We are committed to maintaining zero deforestation and have a zero tolerance to the use of illegal or controversial wood fibre sources.
We are on a mission to create a clear divide between sustainable forestry and deforestation. If we are to tackle the climate crisis, we must recognise the positive role sustainable working forests can play in promoting nature-based solutions and a circular bioeconomy.
Group Natural Resources Manager, Mondi Group