The Role of Russian Forests in Absorbing Greenhouse Gases

On December 4, the official Russian delegation organized an event within the frame of COP-21entitled “The Role of Russian Forests in Adsorbing Greenhouse Gases: Policies and Actions”. Russia has 70% of all boreal forests and 25% of world forest resources. The policy of forest preservation and restoration and efficient forest management plays a great role in reduction of concentration of greenhouse gases: if we do not do this, the absorbing capacity of forests might go down to zero.

Accounting and preservation of boreal forests is a core element of the climate policy. By official data, presently, Russian forests absorb 600 mln tons of СО2 per year. We must preserve this potential. If nothing changes, the absorbing capacity of our forests will go down due to the aging of forests, deforestation, and fires. Climate changes have already now seriously affected some regions; traditional climate conditions are changing to less comfortable and this will impact forest productive capacities.

Ivan Valentik, Director of the Federal Forestry Agency (Rosleskhoz), mentioned in his presentation that climate consequences caused by fires have a special place. Every year, from 10 to 20 thousand fires happen in RF and the total amount of СО2 emissions had reached 260 mln tons.
Besides eliminating forests, fires have another negative effect: they are the source of black carbon impacting the Arctic. Thanks to their small weight, particles of the black carbon disseminate over vast areas and, depositing in the Arctic, they alter the albedo (reflecting capacity of ice) causing faster ice thawing.

According to I. Valentik, the measures are being taken; the fire season will be extended by 28-29 days, and burning of dry grass is absolutely prohibited; forest zoning has been reconsidered and this should help to identify the most vulnerable parts of the forest. However, mutual efforts are needed, as well as support from businesses, academics, and general public.

I. Valentik also said that it is necessary to establish a center for protection and restoration of forests within the frame of the UN Forum of forests; this should also support the global target of 2 degrees. Boreal forests are more subtle to climate changes than any other world forests; climatic changes entail all sorts of consequences, e.g., increase of the numbers of destructive insects and reduction of biodiversity.

Russia cooperates with Mongolia and China on identification of fires at bordering territories. Pilot forest regions have been approved for approbation of the best solutions for reforestation in cooperation with Sweden and Finland. Within the UN frames, there are good mechanisms which can include boreal forests.
The “Less than 2 Degrees” Bulletin wrote in the (UN)MANAGEABLE FORESTS article: “By official experts’ estimates, 76% of forests in Russia are under management. Forest management in all sorts of official documents is understood as a “system of organizational and managing efforts for provision of maintainable and sustainable exploitation of forest resources: inventory of the forest funds, implementation of forest recreation and management, safeguard and protection of forests against fires and other violations, identification of allowed dimensions of sustainable forest exploitation, holding felling for primary and intermediate usage, and non-timber forest production (more http://below2.ru/2015/12/05/foru/).

The role of major businesses in forest preservation was also talked about at the event. Many officials representing major RF companies working at the international market and monitoring European regulation trends intend to reduce emissions through their input into reforestation, in addition to technical modernization. There are eco-companies indexes, and it is beneficial be included in this list. For instance, the U.S. has 400 of environmentally and socially responsible companies and their Dow Jones indexes differ from non-environmental companies up to 47%. This trend of Russian companies’ desire to get higher international business indexes through enhancement of their environmental responsibility could be quite clearly seen in the last year and a half. .
For example, RUSAL participates in forest projects including planting. Considering that RUSAL estimates the outcome of its technical measures at 50% reduction of emissions, it hopes to break even with consideration of its forest projects.

According to RUSAL Company’s officials, despite the huge company’s efforts on modernization, immobilization of wastes, and gas collection, there is no way to make a power-consuming industry with no greenhouse emissions. For this reason, in order to reduce emissions, RUSAL implements offset projects compensating its production. Forest projects and replacement of coal with bio fuels is the strategic advance direction.

Supporting RUSAL and other companies’ intentions to participate in forest projects, the Russian Social and Ecology Union would like to see among their primary activities gradual replacement of not only heating energy at the account of biological fuel but also of their HPSs and NPSs-supplied power at the account of renewable energy sources.

Then, besides the mere arithmetic (we emit greenhouse gases but we plant forests to absorb them one day), the company would give a real start to transferring our country to a low-carbon and socially-oriented economy, with no major HPSs which harm both people and nature, and with no NPSs which cause not only the threat of accidents but also the challenge of not yet resolved problem of radioactive waste utilization. Along with preservation of forests, this will be a balanced input into climatically neutral future.