The world is coming together at COP21 in Paris, France later this year for the best chance to reach a global accord to reduce carbon emissions and address the threat of climate change. It is well understood that forests are critically important for addressing climate.
The UN has clearly stated that the conservation of existing forest carbon stocks has technically the greatest potential for rapid mitigation of climate change.
In Paris, it is expected that there will be a continued focus on protecting forests across the tropics as a tool to sequester carbon. Unfortunately, while tropical forests are of course important, there are critical forest carbon issues that need to be addressed right here at home in temperate forests of the US South. Global maps of forest cover loss released by the University of Maryland last year show the forest disturbance rate in the Southern US was four times that of South American rainforests during the study period (from 2000 to 2012).
Dogwood’s 2015 Green Grades Paper Industry-Progress Report, which analyzed the in-the-woods environmental performance of five of the largest forest products companies operating the US South, explicitly included a criteria for forest carbon management. In our report we looked at companies’ commitments to responsible carbon management through their processes and policies that recognize the importance of forests as natural carbon sinks. We noted that it was an emerging issue and that only office paper giant Domtar had begun to look at the forest carbon management in its wood basket through the Carbon Canopy Project.
As of September 1st, the issue of forest carbon in corporate supply chains is no long emerging:
Food giant General MilLs has made a public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their entire supply chain by 28%.
Because the announcement is from such a large company and for such a significant reduction, the corporate world is on notice. For General Mills, the story is mostly about agriculture, but for the many companies that purchase significant amounts of forest products from the American South like paper, tissue, packaging or lumber, they will now all be looking at their forest products supply chain to find ways to reduce their climate impacts, challenging the forest products companies themselves to reduce their impacts and to deliver better products to the marketplace. That means companies like Georgia-Pacific, Domtar, Intentional Paper and Weyerhaeuser and others will have to improve their understanding of the impact of their forest management activities on carbon emissions in the forest they procure from and significantly improve the carbon profiles of the paper and wood products they sell.
We have long known that wood and paper can often come with a high carbon cost associated with the landscape level impacts of cutting down trees to turn them into products as well as the energy necessary to produce and transport the products.
Across the US South, more than 5 million acres are harvested every year to be turned into the products that we all use almost every single day.
We know that the removal of so much standing forest impacts carbon sequestration and carbon emissions.
Big corporate purchasers want to be sure their pulp, paper, packaging and lumber come from well-managed forests like those certified to the Forest Stewardship Council standard and not at the expense of our remaining Endangered Forests. They insist on forest products partners that are able and willing to help them meet their own environmental commitments. Well as of today, the path forward for responsible forest products companies is clear.
If companies want to remain leaders and successfully compete for business with the big brands like General Mills, The forest products industry must address their carbon footprint in the woods where it matters most.