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.

Forestry Strategy

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.