During the last decade of the 20th century, deforestation in the tropics and forest regrowth in the temperate zone and parts of the boreal zone remained the major factors responsible for emissions and removals, respectively. However, the extent to which the carbon loss due to tropical deforestation is offset by expanding forest areas and accumulating woody biomass in the boreal and temperate zones is an area of disagreement between land observations and estimates by top-down models. Emissions from deforestation in the 1990s are estimated at 5.8 GtCO2/yr (medium agreement, medium evidence).
Bottom-up regional studies show that forestry mitigation options have the economic potential at costs up to 100 US$/tCO2-eq to contribute 1.3-4.2 GtCO2-eq/yr (average 2.7 GtCO2-eq/yr) in 2030. About 50% can be achieved at a cost under 20 US$/tCO2-eq (around 1.6 GtCO2/yr) with large differences between regions. Global top-down models predict far higher mitigation potentials of 13.8 GtCO2-eq/yr in 2030 at carbon prices less than or equal to 100 US$/tCO2-eq. Regional studies tend to use more detailed data and a wider range of mitigation options are reviewed, Thus, these studies may more accurately reflect regional circumstances and constraints than simpler, more aggregate global models. However, regional studies vary in model structure, coverage, analytical approach, and assumptions (including baseline assumptions). In the sectoral comparison in Section 11.3, the more conservative estimate from regional studies is used. Further research is required to narrow the gap in the potential estimates from global and regional assessments (medium agreement, medium evidence).
The carbon mitigation potentials from reducing deforestation, forest management, afforestation, and agro-forestry differ greatly by activity, regions, system boundaries and the time horizon over which the options are compared. In the short term, the carbon mitigation benefits of reducing deforestation are greater than the benefits of afforestation. That is because deforestation is the single most important source, with a net loss of forest area between 2000 and 2005 of 7.3 million ha/yr.
Mitigation options by the forestry sector include extending carbon retention in harvested wood products, product substitution, and producing biomass for bioenergy. This carbon is removed from the atmosphere and is available to meet society’s needs for timber, fibre, and energy. Biomass from forestry can contribute 12-74 EJ/yr to energy consumption, with a mitigation potential roughly equal to 0.4-4.4 GtCO2/yr depending on the assumption whether biomass replaces coal or gas in power plants (medium agreement, medium evidence).
In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit. Most mitigation activities require up-front investment with benefits and co-benefits typically accruing for many years to decades. The combined effects of reduced deforestation and degradation, afforestation, forest management, agro-forestry and bioenergy have the potential to increase from the present to 2030 and beyond (medium agreement, medium evidence).
Global change will impact carbon mitigation in the forest sector but the magnitude and direction of this impact cannot be predicted with confidence as yet. Global change may affect growth and decomposition rates, the area, type, and intensity of natural disturbances, land-use patterns, and other ecological processes (medium agreement, medium evidence).
Forestry can make a very significant contribution to a low-cost global mitigation portfolio that provides synergies with adaptation and sustainable development. However, this opportunity is being lost in the current institutional context and lack of political will to implement and has resulted in only a small portion of this potential being realized at present (high agreement, much evidence).
Globally, hundreds of millions of households depend on goods and services provided by forests. This underlines the importance of assessing forest sector activities aimed at mitigating climate change in the broader context of sustainable development and community impact. Forestry mitigation activities can be designed to be compatible with adapting to climate change, maintaining biodiversity, and promoting sustainable development. Comparing environmental and social co-benefits and costs with the carbon benefit will highlight trade-offs and synergies, and help promote sustainable development (low agreement, medium evidence).
Realization of the mitigation potential requires institutional capacity, investment capital, technology RD and transfer, as well as appropriate policies and incentives, and international cooperation. In many regions, their absence has been a barrier to implementation of forestry mitigation activities. Notable exceptions exist, however, such as regional successes in reducing deforestation rates and implementing large-scale afforestation programmes. Considerable progress has been made in technology development for implementation, monitoring and reporting of carbon benefits but barriers to technology transfer remain (high agreement, much evidence).
Forestry mitigation activities implemented under the Kyoto Protocol, including the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), have to date been limited. Opportunities to increase activities include simplifying procedures, developing certainty over future commitments, reducing transaction costs, and building confidence and capacity among potential buyers, investors and project participants (high agreement, medium evidence).
While the assessment in this chapter identifies remaining uncertainties about the magnitude of mitigation benefits and costs, the technologies and knowledge required to implement mitigation activities exist today.