Not all forest management helps to mitigate climate change


Difference in surface properties between dark coniferous and light broadleaved trees in Alsace (France). Photo: Ernst-Detlef Schulze

An international research team, lead by the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement - Institut Pierre Simon Laplace (LSCE/IPSL) in France and including lead author Kim Naudts from the department "The Land in the Atmosphere" at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M), found that two and a half centuries of afforestation and forest management in Europe have failed to mitigate climate warming. Their findings have been published recently in Science.

The team reconstructed 260-years of historical land use in Europe and improved a complex computer model to calculate the amount of carbon, energy and water that is trapped or released by managing a forest. By doing this they could analyse the effect of historical afforestation and forest management on the carbon balance and the contemporary climate.

Afforestation and forest management are recognized as key strategies for climate change mitigation in the Paris agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Afforestation and forest management are generally expected to have the potential to slow global warming by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. However, the new study shows that, despite a considerable increase in forest area and the onset of widespread production-oriented management since 1750, European forests failed to realize a net CO2 removal from the atmosphere. By extracting wood from unmanaged forest and bringing these forests under production, humans released carbon to the atmosphere, otherwise stored in the biomass, litter, dead wood and soil of the forest. Kim Naudts, lead author of the study explains: "Even well managed present-day forest store much less carbon than their natural counterparts in 1750".

Besides wood harvest, the onset of production-oriented forestry also massively converted deciduous forest to coniferous forest by favouring commercially successful species. This resulted in changes in water and energy exchange with the atmosphere, which contributed to climate warming rather than mitigating it. Kim Naudts concludes: "Our results show that not all forest management contributed to climate change mitigation. The key question is now: can we design a forest management strategy that cools the climate and at the same time sustains wood production and other ecosystem services?"

Original publication:

Naudts, K., Chen, Y., McGrath, M.J., Ryder, J., Valade, A., Otto, J., Luyssaert, S.: Europe's forest management did not mitigate climate warming (2016). Science,
Opens external link in current windowdoi: 10.1126/science.aad7270


Dr. Kim Naudts
Max Planck Institute for Meteorology
Phone: +49 (0) 40 41173 550
Email: Opens window for sending emailkim.naudts@we dont want

Dr. Juliane Otto
GERICS - Climate Service Center Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 40 226 338 418
Email: Opens window for sending emailjuliane.otto@we dont want