Forests for the climate

Andrzej Konieczny

We have more and more forests that produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and mitigate the climate change.

Why is the COP24 climate summit an important event for the State Forests (LP)?

Andrzej Konieczny: We are responsible for most of the forests in Poland, so we are interested in any ideas, discussions or actions that may have an impact on reducing the adverse effects of climate change, which are increasingly affecting forest ecosystems. Many years of scarce rainfall are taking their toll on the forests, resulting in the dying of pines and spruces, especially in the Sudety mountains, and contributing to a higher risk of forest fires. Violent weather phenomena, such as the storms, which hit our country in August last year, destroying huge areas of forests from Wielkopolska to Kashubia, are also on the increase. As State Forests, we make efforts to best prepare the organization itself and the forests entrusted to us for these challenges, but also – as all of us – we hope for the actions of countries on a global scale.

What is more, the Polish State Treasury has the honour of co-preparing the Polish national pavilion at COP24. It will also present our projects which are part of the Human-Man-Nature trinity, around which Poland’s message for the conference is shaped. These include, among others, Forest Coal Farms, Energy Forest or Polish Wooden Houses. That is why COP24 is a great event for us. I hope that our experience will inspire guests from all over the world who will come to Katowice.

We most often talk about Forest Coal Farms (more about this project on the adjacent page). What are the other projects?

As an organisation, we want to reduce our carbon footprint and promote environmentally friendly solutions that are beneficial for the climate and our health. Last but not least, the effect may also be a costs reduction.

The Energy Forest project encompasses various measures to rationalise energy consumption. We are increasing the share of renewable sources in the structure of energy consumption in the State Forests by installing photovoltaic cells, heat pumps, biomass boilers and other RES installations in our buildings. In the years 2017-2019 alone, we plan to build 140 such micro installations with a total capacity of 2 MW. We have introduced an integrated system of purchasing electricity for all organizational units within LP. We have taken the first steps towards the development of our own low-emission transport by purchasing 16 fully electric cars. These undertakings will have both a beneficial effect on the environment in the form of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as on our finances and energy security.

We also promote wood construction and the use of wood in general in everyday life, because it is an ecological raw material, fully renewable and friendly, and products from it continue to bind CO2. Here, too, we start from ourselves, currently building all new facilities in LP exclusively from wood.

However, doesn’t forest management alone contribute to global warming?

On the contrary, not as far as sustainable forest management is concerned, which is carried out by the State Forests. Thanks to it, Polish companies and citizens can use wood, while at the same time we have more and more forests that produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, mitigate the climate change and help us in many other ways. Foresters have to renew all the forest areas they exploit and plant trees on new areas, so as to increase the area covered by forests in Poland, which now reaches 30 percent of the country’s total area. We even have the opportunity to increase the natural capacity of forests to absorb CO2 through special tree breeding measures. This is the basis of our project entitled Forest Coal Farms.

Forests can help in the fight against climate change, but will they not fall victim to it? You acknowledged that high temperatures and lack of rainfall are causing massive tree deaths in some regions.

First of all, they make trees weaker, which makes them easier to be blown down by the wind, kill mushrooms or insect pests. Therefore, foresters consistently rebuild old monocultures, adapting the species composition to the requirements of a given habitat, creating diverse forests with trees of different age, and these efforts make them more resistant to unfavourable conditions. Observing changes taking place around us and anticipating their consequences, we are also implementing a number of adaptation projects. In the State Forests in the last decade, over 6.5 thousand small reservoirs and watercourses, which store nearly 44 million cubic metres of water, have been built, cleared or renovated. We are currently implementing further small retention projects in lowlands and mountains, where the value of works planned by 2022 reaches nearly PLN 450 million. Water is a source of life for the forest, a habitat for many species of plants and animals, a point of drawing water for firefighters in case of a fire – this is of key importance in the face of increasingly frequent droughts, as well as generally scarce water resources in Poland. The less precipitation, the greater the fire hazard in forests, so we are constantly developing our fire protection system. From 2016 until 2019, we will buy new and modernise various elements of the system for nearly PLN 60 million. It is also worth reminding that the current model of our operation makes it possible to react quickly and effectively when a disaster occurs. Within a year after the „hurricane of the century” in the Tuchola Forest we have cleared most of the forests destroyed on the area of as much as 80 thousand hectares. The costs of cleaning works will exceed PLN one billion, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, because in the following years we will have to plant hundreds of millions of trees in the areas affected by the natural disaster and cultivate them for years. Without the possibility of self-financing, having adequate reserves, coordination of activities on a national or regional scale, we would not be able to carry out such large operations on our own, which are necessary to maintain the sustainability of forests.

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