European forests show no carbon debt, only a long parity effect

G.J. Nabuurs*, E.J.M.M. Arets, M. Schelhaas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


In the past the use of woody biomass for bioenergy was considered carbon neutral. However, this changed when analyses were made of cases of land use change or old growth forest logging for bioenergy purposes. These analyses showed a significant carbon debt that could take hundreds of years to be compensated by the substitution factor of the bioenergy.
Currently, carbon debt analyses are often carried out: 1) at one hectare scale, or 2) against the hypothetical case of allowing the managed forest to grow to an old-growth state, or 3) in a comparison against short term policy goals. All three are not realistic for European forests. Here we analysed carbon debt and parity of realistically increased harvesting over large forest areas in Europe. We found that under such realistic cases, a carbon debt does not occur. i.e. the large scale average stocks in the forest are not reduced. What does occur is a parity compared to the baseline harvesting levels. The parity effect was eventually also compensated for. However it took long, especially if final fellings were increased for bioenergy; which is a rather hypothetical case. In case of increased thinnings, the parity equality was often reached within 80 years compared to burning coal. Removal of harvesting residues was often compensated within 1 decade. However, parity is a theoretical comparison against a higher baseline C stock in the forest. It is not certain that this higher stocking under the baseline will be sustained, because there is an increasing chance of natural disturbances. Thus the parity may be much shorter than analysed here.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-125
JournalForest Policy and Economics
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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