A systems approach to assess climate change mitigation options in landscapes of the United States forest sector
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Carbon Balance and Management
Background: United States forests can contribute to national strategies for greenhouse gas reductions. The objective of this work was to evaluate forest sector climate change mitigation scenarios from 2018 to 2050 by applying a systems- based approach that accounts for net emissions across four interdependent components: (1) forest ecosystem, (2) land-use change, (3) harvested wood products, and (4) substitution benefits from using wood products and bioenergy. We assessed a range of land management and harvested wood product scenarios for two case studies in the U.S: coastal South Carolina and Northern Wisconsin. We integrated forest inventory and remotely-sensed disturbance data within a modelling framework consisting of a growth-and-yield driven ecosystem carbon model; a harvested wood products model that estimates emissions from commodity production, use and post-consumer treatment; and displacement factors to estimate avoided fossil fuel emissions. We estimated biophysical mitigation potential by comparing net emissions from land management and harvested wood products scenarios with a baseline ('business as usual') scenario. Results: Baseline scenario results showed that the strength of the ecosystem carbon sink has been decreasing in the two sites due to age-related productivity declines and deforestation. Mitigation activities have the potential to lessen or delay the further reduction in the carbon sink. Results of the mitigation analysis indicated that scenarios reducing net forest area loss were most effective in South Carolina, while extending harvest rotations and increasing longerlived wood products were most effective in Wisconsin. Scenarios aimed at increasing bioenergy use either increased or reduced net emissions within the 32-year analysis timeframe. Conclusions: It is critical to apply a systems approach to comprehensively assess net emissions from forest sector climate change mitigation scenarios. Although some scenarios produced a benefit by displacing emissions from fossil fuel energy or by substituting wood products for other materials, these benefits can be outweighed by increased carbon emissions in the forest or product systems. Maintaining forests as forests, extending rotations, and shifting commodities to longer-lived products had the strongest mitigation benefits over several decades. Carbon cycle impacts of bioenergy depend on timeframe, feedstocks, and alternative uses of biomass, and cannot be assumed carbon neutral.
Dugan, Alexa J.; Birdsey, Richard; Mascorro, Vanessa S.; Magnan, Michael; Smyth, Carolyn E.; Olguin, Marcela; Kurz, Werner A. 2018. A systems approach to assess climate change mitigation options in landscapes of the United States forest sector. Carbon Balance and Management. 13(1): 74-. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13021-018-0100-x.