Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are the net result of continuous emissions and uptake that occur through natural processes and human activities. Future concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere -- the key factor of the global warming threat -- can be limited both by reducing emissions and by increasing the amount of annual uptake by natural systems, sometimes called carbon "sinks." Trees, plants, and soils absorb and store CO2 from the atmosphere, and are a significant carbon sink.
CO2 emissions occur when the carbon stored in these sinks is released -- for example when trees are harvested and the wood is burned for energy. Protecting the carbon stored in these forest reservoirs, therefore, can prevent CO2 emissions from occurring. The Administration has already taken significant steps to protect carbon sequestered in forests. Lower harvests in old-growth forests help prevent CO2 emissions, even if accompanied by increased harvests elsewhere, because old-growth forests have higher carbon densities than second growth forests. The shift toward ecosystem management also favors timber harvest methods that inflict less damage and helps retain carbon on forest lands. Sink protection actions are very cost-effective methods for limiting net CO2 emissions.
The Action Plan includes several programs to maintain carbon sequestered in forest ecosystems, which provide about 9% of the emission reductions needed to reach the greenhouse gas target in 2000. These include an expanded program to encourage better management of private forests and programs to increase the recycling of wood fiber.
PRESIDENT CLINTON IS DIRECTING:
- USDA to increase technical and economic assistance to private non-industrial landowners to encourage better management and greater tree planting. Small private landowners -- some with only a few acres of forests -- generally do not manage their holdings intensively. About 16% of these forests are in poor health, and many are harvested for short term economic gain without replanting for maximal growth. Better management and accelerated planting programs will decrease carbon emissions from private non-industrial lands, increase carbon uptake, and provide significant economic and environmental benefits over the long term.
- USDA will expand management assistance under the Stewardship Incentive Program by funding additional free technical consultations and management plans for small landowners. Over the next several years, USDA will also expand tree planting programs for non-industrial forest owners that provide up to 75% of the costs.
- USDA and EPA to expand voluntary source reduction and paper recycling programs and to increase research into recycling technologies, which help reduce the amount of paper waste generated and to increase the fraction of waste paper recycled. These programs pay a double dividend for climate protection: source reduction and recycling lowers the demand for virgin fiber and reduced harvest levels decrease CO2 emissions from forests, while recycling paper consumes less energy than manufacturing paper and other products from virgin fiber.