• The Forest Service plans to allow 72% of forests across the country to be logged as part of a “2050 Carbon-Neutral Forestry Sector” plan.
• Despite Forest Service’s claims, older trees retain higher carbon absorption capacity.
• Trees have ecological value beyond carbon absorption
• KFEM urges the Forest Service to completely cancel the plan
In the name of carbon neutrality, the Korea Forest Service has drawn up plans to cut down forests that are more than 30 years old and plant new trees. Such forests represent 72% of total forest area. On Earth Day on April 22, Korea Federation for Environmental Movements(KFEM) criticized the Forest Service’s large-scale logging policy at a press conference in front of the Yeouido Forest Vision Center. They called for the “2050 Carbon-Neutral Forestry Sector” plan to be withdrawn.
The Korea Forest Service based its plan on research from the National Institute of Forest Science. The institute divided trees into 10-year age groups, and calculated that “old” trees with a level of 4 or higher have a sharp decline in carbon absorption of domestic greenhouse gases. The Forest Service argued that such trees should be felled because they will interfere with national carbon emissions reduction targets. In 2018, forests absorbed 46 million tons of carbon dioxide, and the above calculation estimates that the absorption will drop to 14 million tons by 2050 if the trees are not replaced.
However, it is not difficult to find research showing that older trees have higher carbon absorption capacity. According to a paper published in Nature in 2008, biomass stocks increase rapidly in forests over 100 years old, and the steepest increase is in forests over 300 years old. Professor Hong Seok-hwan, a member of the Natural Ecology Committee of KFEM, stated that “The Korea Forest Service’s logic is limited to data for the first 20 to 50 years of growth. At this time, the amount of biomass stock increased for a short period of time and then plateaued for some time. This coincides with the period when trees that were densely growing in a natural state compete with each other and are rapidly culled through competition.” He concludes that the Forest Service’s justification for replacing existing forests with 3 billion new trees, is based on the unfounded assumption that this plateau in carbon absorption would continue long term.
The high carbon absorption capacity of large, old trees was even acknowledged by the Forest Service in a 2018 article in the Korea Forest Service National Arboretum, entitled “Living Fossils of Ecological History.” Here researchers found that the difference in annual average carbon absorption capacity between large and normal-sized trees has widened recently (27.5 kg in the 1990s, 29.4 kg in the 2000s, and 35.8 kg in the 2010s). This means a continuous increase in carbon absorption capacity for large tree. In addition, the article stated that “The big trees are valuable forest assets that guarantee the uniqueness, naturalness, and historicity of the forest ecosystem and have a very high conservation value.”
At the press conference Jung Myung-hee, head of the Ecological Conservation Bureau of KFEM stated that, “now is not the time to cut down trees, but the time for the government to take the lead in conserving biodiversity,” She added, “tidal flats, which are the largest source of carbon trapping, should be restored; rivers effected by the Four Rivers Project should be re-naturalized; and areas with high biodiversity should be designated as protected areas so that they are no longer damaged by humans.” She concluded that, “if the goal of carbon neutrality is to be achieved this kind of policy of plundering trees should be abolished.”
KFEM International Solidarity Director, Kim Hye-lyn, addressed the global dimensions of this issue, stating that “the Korea Forest Service has been criticized by the international community for providing billions in loans to Korean companies involved in the destruction of Indonesia’s natural tropical forests and related human rights violations,” However, in the name of carbon neutrality, the service is planning to expand overseas greenhouse gas reduction projects (REDD+) to secure carbon credits by cutting down trees in other countries and planting production forests. She concluded, “I will never stand by and watch the use of other countries’ forests as a mere carbon business, I will respond with support from global civil society.”
At a press conference KFEM criticized the Forest Service’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality by cutting down healthy forests, while ignoring the major changes that need to be made in industry, the economy, and consumption patterns if we are to tackle the climate emergency. KFEM called on the Korea Forest Service to:
- Completely withdraw the current “2050 Carbon-Neutral Forestry Sector” plan, and ensure civil society’s participation in the revision process.
- Halt plans to log forests.
- Publicly disclose all details of the current plan, including planned deforestation, local ecological survey plans, new planting sites, planted tree species, and information on private companies involved and to whom the wood is intended to be sold.
▽Press Conference Statements
South Korea Forest Service Opens up 72% of Forests to Logging
We oppose decision to reduce minimum age for felling
We oppose the use of the term carbon absorption to justify new policy, when economics and biomass production are at the forefront of this decision.
In last years updated NDCs, South Korea identified forestry as an important tool in its greenhouse gas reduction plans. In response the Korea Forest Service changed its definition of “old” trees from 50 to 30 years, opening up 72% of total forest area to be cut down and replaced with “young” trees. This includes forests in national parks and protected areas.
The National Institute of Forest Science justified the nationwide deforestation plan, by labelling it carbon-neutral, ignoring international research on the carbon absorption potential of old forests and the carbon emissions from logging. The designation of a 30-year tree as old, is also highly dubious, and not at all in sync with standards in other countries. A 30-year rotation age only makes sense in light of the country’s push for biomass energy production.
Fundamentally this decision, is yet another attempt by the Korean state to “solve” the climate crisis, without having to touch industry, the economy, or consumption patterns. The Korea Federation for Environmental Movements calls on the Korea Forest Service to:
✔︎ Completely withdraw the current “2050 Carbon-Neutral Forestry Sector” plan, and ensure civil society’s participation in the revision process.
✔︎ Halt plans to log forests.
✔︎ Publicly disclose all details of the current plan, including planned deforestation, local ecological survey plans, new planting sites, planted tree species, and information on private companies involved and to whom the wood is intended to be sold.
April 22, 2021
Korea Federation for Environmental Movements
Translated and Edited by Sam Macdonald