EU research looks into Europe’s carbon sinks

Are European forests, soil and grass part of the solution for dealing with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions? Today the European Commission presented the CarboEurope research initiative in Valencia (Spain). It is a cluster of 15 research projects supported by the European Commission with a budget of €25 million. The project brings together around 160 research institutions from over 20 countries. It looks at whether the biosphere, and above all forests, can reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the principal cause of climate warming. The Earth’s biosphere can absorb more carbon than it releases. European forests could therefore be huge carbon sinks. CarboEurope’s preliminary results point to a CO2 absorption rate of up to 30% of EU annual industrial emissions.

According to European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin: “Through the CarboEurope initiative, our best scientists across Europe are working together to be able to better quantify the capacity of forests to absorb and store carbon. This is particularly important if we want to be able to meet the stringent Kyoto Protocol targets for cutting CO2 levels. This issue is on the international agenda, in view of the Kyoto follow-up meeting in New Dehli . Over the next four years, the EU will devote €700 million to support research on global change and ecosystems. More research will help the EU promote its sustainable development agenda on the world stage.”

Once finalised, CarboEurope will be able to measure and check progress towards the Kyoto target, i.e. the planned CO2 reduction in the atmosphere. In order to achieve this aim, a large carbon monitoring network has been established across Europe at ground level and in the air. Measurements will be analysed and integrated through computer modelling. To date, CarboEurope has produced significant evidence that the European biosphere is absorbing the equivalent of 10-30% of annual industrial CO2 emissions. CarboEurope will also analyse how a changing climate might modify, and eventually reduce, the biosphere’s capacity for absorbing CO2.

Sustainable forest management can and should play a key role in protecting and enhancing carbon stocks and combating climate change. The project shows that semi-natural forests with high bio-diversity and a different age class structure are most able to meet these targets. In addition, it also found that old unspoiled forests still absorb carbon and that the protection of these forests should receive high priority in order to protect the large carbon stocks.

CarboEurope is the world’s first research project in which a coherent, comprehensive integration of terrestrial and atmospheric carbon sciences has been achieved on a continental scale. The US, Japan and China plan to launch similar initiatives.

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Fabio Fabbi European Commission

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