In Depth

Climate Change and Papermaking

There is no longer any real debate within the scientific community regarding the phenomenon of climate change and its likely consequences. Burning fossil fuels- coal, oil and natural gas releases greenhouse gases (GHG), primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) into the atmosphere. The accumulation of these gases in the atmosphere is absorbing too much of the heat that is normally radiated into space by the earth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that we are already experiencing some effects of the resulting increase in temperature. These conclusions have been well-documented and widely communicated.

For the latest IPCC information visit their website at http://www.ipcc.ch .

Climate change and papermaking

Climate change is at the forefront of the sustainability agenda for the forest products industry, governments and consumers. It is considered one of the primary environmental threats facing the world today.

Forests can mitigate climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (carbon sequestration) and then storing it in the tissues of plants and trees (biomass). Wood products also store carbon. Most analysts hold that sustainably managed forests have a major role in climate change mitigation, in that they provide biomass energy that can replace fossil fuels. Some argue that biofuel derived from forests is preferable to fossil-fuel energy because the forest, which sequesters carbon, is already part of the carbon cycle.1

Fossil fuels on the other hand introduce fossil–or old–carbon into the atmosphere thus adding to the carbon budget of the planet. The current question and debate amongst parties is what approach is best suited to controlling atmospheric carbon levels; maximize carbon sequestration rates or maximize carbon storage levels or a hybrid of both. [For more information see the Paper Life Cycle section “Biomass as a Source of Energy“.]


1. IPCC. Carbon Dioxide Capture Aand Storage. Rep. no. ISBN-13 978-0-521-86643-9. Ed. Bert Metz, Ogunlade Davidson, Heleen De Coninck, Manuela Loos, and Leo Meyer. New York: Cambridge UP, 2005. (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srccs/srccs_wholereport.pdf)