Land use, Land use change and forestry

LULUCF stands for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry. The LULUCF sector includes the land use categories: Forest land, Cropland, Grassland, Wetlands, Settlements and Other land.

The LULUCF sector comprises emissions and removals from the forest carbon pools above- and below-ground biomass, deadwood, litter, mineral and organic soils. Carbon stored in wood products (sawn wood, panels and paper) is reported in the Harvested Wood Product pool (HWP) and is estimated separately.

In Europe, Forest land is the main net sink of the LULUCF sector. HWP are also a continuous sink over the time series, whereas Cropland, Grassland, Wetlands and Settlements were net emission sources.

EU27 LULUCF Regulation

The EU’s current LULUCF Regulation was adopted in 2018 as part of the 2021–2030 energy and climate policy framework and contributes to the EU emission reduction target of at least 40% by 2030 (EU's 2030 emission reduction target), including the land-use sector. On 14 July 2021, the European Commission adopted a set of proposals to make the EU's climate, energy, transport and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels (Fit for 55 package-link).

The EU Member States have to ensure that accounted greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land-use change or forestry are balanced by at least an equivalent accounted removal of CO2 from the atmosphere in the period 2021 to 2030.

EU LULUCF Greenhouse gas (GHG) Emissions (+) / Removals (-)

In addition to the emissions and removals from carbon stock changes in the pools due to land-use change or land management, methane and nitrous oxide emissions are reported for specific land-use related activities (e.g. CH4 and N2O from biomass burning, CH4 and N2O emissions from drainage and rewetting of organic soils, direct and indirect N2O emissions from mineral soils).

EU27: LULUCF historical trend from 1990 to 2021, in million tonnes of CO2 equivalent


Harvested wood products

Harvested wood products also store carbon. Three types of wood products are distinguished in the greenhouse gas inventories: sawnwood, panels, and paper. Carbon is stored in the wood product over a certain lifetime related to its use. At the end of the product lifetime, and when released to the atmosphere, the carbon former stored in the wood product is considered an emission in a GHG inventory.

When more carbon flows into wood products pool than what has reached the end of the life-time, then a build up of carbon in products occurs and this is accounted for as a net sink in the GHG inventory.

The HWPs can be counted as additional of carbon sink in the GHG inventory, because the biomass loss due to harvest is already considered in the biomass of Forest Land.
Note that CO2 is released during combustion where there is a supply of woody biomass for energy.

Most of EU’s wood consumption is by wood from EU forests

EU27: changes in CO2 in harvested wood products from 1990 to 2021, in million tonnes of CO2


The substitution effect of wood

When the usage of wood avoids the use of fossil fuels or materials with higher emissions, less carbon is released into the atmosphere by other sectors like energy, also called “the substitution effect of wood”.

Material substitution is when wood can replace other materials such as steel or concrete (high emission) in buildings where

  • it stores carbon in the building (this is accounted for under the LULUCF sector in the HWP pool)
  • emissions are reduced because wood products are less emission-intensive as the substitute materials steel or concrete (emission reductions typically occur in the energy sector)

Energy substitution is when woody biomass is used as bioenergy and can replace fossil fuels (high emission), leading to reduced emissions in the energy sector.

Note that if woody biomass is used to produce bioenergy, no CO2 emissions must be reported in the energy sector; the carbon loss of the harvested tree has to be accounted as release to the atmosphere already in the LULUCF sector.