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Burning wood is not climate-neutral

a team of scientists around Prof. Dr. Pierre Ibisch from the University for Sustainable Development in Eberswalde (HNEE; Germany) clarifies this on the basis of worldwide research work. Even the use of wood in durable products can be detrimental to the climate – especially when the harvesting of wood impairs the functionality of forests.

The assumption that the use of the forest and the consumption of wood represents a contribution to climate protection is widespread. At the same time, some argue against protected forest areas, even in the name of climate protection. Natural forests are downright presented as a climate problem. Such positions are not covered by facts or scientific studies. Rather, they ignore even extremely clear findings. This background paper summarises the relevant scientific results against these named assumptions.

  • The forest is an effective carbon store: this is particularly true for old, functioning forest ecosystems with significant stores in living tree stands, dead wood and soil. Intensive wood use has also reduced carbon reservoirs and carbon sink capacity in Germany. Leaving the living and dead wood in combination with ‚regrowth‘ (stock accumulation) would be the most effective form of climate protection in forests in the short term.
  • Burning wood is not climate-neutral: the use of wood for energy purposes contributes to the greenhouse gas effect, especially in the short term. In Germany it contributes to the deterioration of the condition of broadleaved forests.
  • More wood use does not automatically mean more carbon storage in wood products: The idea that replacing energy-intensive materials with wood could contribute to climate protection (substitution effect through wood product storage) is highly questionable in the light of complex material flows (imports, exports, etc.) and the entire life cycle of wood products (harvest, transport, service life).
  • Poor adaptation to climate change and over-utilisation: There is a risk that forestry, through inappropriate silvicultural strategies and over-utilisation of wood, will contribute to forests becoming a source of greenhouse gases in the future.


In the course of the energy transition funding policy is on the wrong track in Germany. Wood harvested in the forest must never be used as a supposedly climate-neutral fuel. At most, waste wood in the course of cascade use should be used for energy purposes and potentially trimmed timber from cities or wood from landscape conservation. Wood-fired power stations contribute to the greenhouse effect in the short term and promote the overexploitation of broadleaved forests in Germany. It must not be an option to fire coal-fired power stations with wood. Wood is a valuable material that must be used in durable and precious wood products. If wood use continues to weaken forests in the context of climate change, it is not a contribution to sustainable development and certainly not to climate protection.


Pierre L. Ibisch, Torsten Welle, Jeanette S. Blumröder, Jörg Sommer: Forests are carbon stores Burning wood is not climate-neutral, 2020. e-paper, download here