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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wood burning not as harmful as thought

Effects of wood fuel burning have less of an impact on CO2 emissions than previously thought
Cozy Fireplace animated GIFYale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies 

The harvesting of wood to meet the heating and cooking demands for billions of people worldwide has less of an impact on global forest loss and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than previously believed, according to a new Yale-led study.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, a team of researchers, including Prof. Robert Bailis of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), concludes that only about 27 to 34 percent of wood fuel harvested worldwide would be considered “unsustainable.”

According to the assessment, “sustainability” is based on whether or not annual harvesting exceeds incremental re-growth.


The other authors are Rudi Drigo, an independent forestry specialist with international experience; and Adrian Ghilardi and Omar Masera of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

According to the authors, the findings point to the need for more nuanced, local-specific policies that address forest loss, climate change, and public health. 

They also suggest that existing carbon offset methodologies used to reduce carbon emissions likely overstate the CO2 emission reductions that can be achieved through the promotion of more efficient cookstove technologies.

The study identifies a set of “hotspots” where the majority of wood extraction exceeds sustainable yields. These hotspot regions — located mainly in South Asia and East Africa — support about 275 million people who are reliant on wood fuel.

"If forests and woodlands would have been cut down anyway, then the projects designed to reduce wood fuel demand are not actually going to reduce deforestation."

However, in other regions, the authors say, much of the wood used for this traditional heating and cooking is actually the byproduct of deforestation driven by other factors, such as demand for agricultural land, which would have occurred anyway.

“If forests and woodlands would have been cut down anyway, then the projects designed to reduce wood fuel demand are not actually going to reduce deforestation,” said Bailis, an associate professor at F&ES and lead author of the study. “Sure, you’re reducing wood use, but the underlying pressures driving deforestation are still out there.”

The results stand in contrast to a long-held assumption that the harvesting of wood fuels — which accounts for more than half of the wood harvested worldwide — is a major driver of deforestation and climate change.