Author: Alice Roberts

Ensuring British Columbia’s forests offer a sustainable source of fibre takes collaboration and careful management

Diane Nicholls, Vice President of Sustainability for North America, Drax

Key takeaways: 

  • British Columbia is 94% provincial Crown Land, meaning its 55-60 million hectares of forest cover is publicly owned, rather than privately held.  
  • Government legislation and regulation exists detailing what forestry practises can take place, working alongside First Nations, to ensure forests are used for the benefit of all.
  • Sustainable forest management practises offer a source of fibre for forest industries while also protecting forests from disease and wildfire.  
  • Although the biomass pellet industry is relatively new to the province, it offers a use for forest residues that were previously burned or landfilled, and for sawmill residues.  

As a business operating in the Canadian forest industry, we have a responsibility to work collaboratively with local and national governments, communities, and First Nations to ensure British Columbia’s forests are sustainably managed, protected from disease and fire, and preserved for future generations.  

British Columbia is a vast and diverse landscape. The second largest of Canada’s provinces, it contains 14 different bio geoclimatic zones ranging from coastal forest in the west, to alpine meadows on the eastern Rocky Mountains, with bogs, wetlands, and even arid land in between.   

The landscape of British Colombia is home to a wide range of flora and fauna. With roughly 55-60 million hectares (550,000-600,000 km2) of land covered in forest, it is a vital resource. More than 50,000 British Columbians work directly in the forest industry and even as cities like Vancouver and Victoria grow, it remains a central source of social value to rural economies.  

Sharing forests between government and First Nations

British Columbia has a long history of stewardship and sustainable forest management practices. Forestry began in the region in the 1800s with Sitka spruce, harvested predominantly to support ship building. Since then, forestry has become a major part of the province’s economy and the province is a world leader in sustainable forest management and environmental practises. 

As 94% of British Columbia is provincial Crown Land, the government sets the rules and regulations about what forestry practices, or any other natural resource extractions, can take place. Under legislation, any land where forest harvesting occurs must be reforested and it is illegal for a company to deforest British Columbia or Canada.   

For many years, an increasingly important component of the Canadian forestry industry has been the contribution that First Nations are making. There are 204 First Nations across British Columbia each with traditional territories used for cultural and spiritual purposes, as well as day-to-day needs like hunting, fishing, trapping, and housing.  

Many First Nations have their own land use plans that are utilised in forest management planning in the province. First Nations are also consulted and collaborated with by the province on forest management decisions. This creates partnerships between First Nations, industries working in the province’s forests, and governments at the provincial and federal levels. 

Protecting forests from pests and fire

Forest infected with mountain pine beetle in British Columbia

Managing forests is crucial to their longevity and ensuring they remain healthy and useable for future generations. This includes forestry practices to protect them from pests and the growing threat of forest fires.  

In 2017 and 2019 we saw the largest catastrophic fires we’ve ever had in British Columbia. At times it felt like the whole province was on fire. More recently, 2020 was another terrible year. Factors like climate change and storms are increasing the number of fires we see, but the intensity of fires is also exacerbated by debris left on forest floors from relatively recent mountain pine beetle infestations and other insects or diseases affecting forest health.  

 In the 1990’s several relatively warm winters led to the mountain pine beetle becoming endemic, and over the next 15 years millions of hectares of pine forest were lost to the bug. The government increased the allowable annual cut (harvesting levels) to remove the debris of such infestations which become dangerous fire hazards if not removed. 

To protect from fires, pests, and diseases, it’s important to open up forests through managed removals. This process creates more space and less dense stands of trees. It’s also crucial to reduce what’s left lying on the forest floor after forestry operations, while ensuring that the right wood is left to encourage biodiversity, soil health and habitat needs.  

These sustainable management practises are important to help the resilience of the forest and biomass offers a use for much of the wood removed through these practices that is not able to be manufactured into lumber.  

Biomass and the wood industry

Compared to lumber manufacturing, pellet production is relatively new to British Columbia’s forest industry, but it offers a practical use for materials that are unmerchantable or unsuitable for sawlogs. This includes, but is not limited to, forms of forest residues such as low-grade wood, treetops, and branches that are left behind from harvesting activities.   

Removing forest residues can provide more growing sites for new seedlings and helps to prevent intense forest fires. Slash and other low-grade wood are often simply burned along roadsides, but pellets offer a way to turn this fibre into a source of renewable energy. 

Forest residues from harvests, like slash and low-grade roundwood, accounted for approximately 8% and 10% of the fibre used in our Canadian pellet plants in the first half of 2022. The rest of the fibre we use comes from sawmill residues, such as wood chips, shavings, and sawdust. 

Drax operates eight pellet mills across British Columbia and two in neighbouring Alberta, but doesn’t own forests or carry out harvesting or wood sorting. Instead, we partner with forest companies that operate sawmills. These companies are awarded forest tenures, which allow them to harvest certain forest areas (which are identified by the provincial government) to produce solid wood products, which lock in carbon for years. In return, we obtain their sawmill residues. The economics of the wood pellet industry means the main driver of harvesting is still demand for high-grade timber.    

Through collaboration with our partners across the province, we help ensure British Columbia’s forests offer resources that benefit local communities and are sustainably managed for future generations.  

Making the grade: The careful process of choosing what wood is right for biomass

Key takeaways:

  • British Columbia’s working forests are owned by the province and managed  to preserve the environment while supporting forestry industries and local communities.
  • When forests are harvested, professional, licensed scalers who are independent of logging companies or sawmills, evaluate the size and quality of wood.
  • The processes and assessments made by scalers are extensive and designed to ensure high quality lumber makes its way to commercial markets.
  • The careful process of grading wood ensures that only low-quality wood, unusable by lumber sectors is used to produce sustainable biomass pellets.

Healthy working forests are full of different species of trees that serve as essential commercial resource to rural communities. Within these forests are different qualities of wood and trees.

The lumber industry, which drives the commercial forestry in British Columbia, only uses high-quality sawlogs that can be processed into lumber and other valuable solid wood products. When forest companies and the provincial government identify areas of forest suitable for management, the materials are professionally, independently sorted, and selected by the logging operator according to specifications set by the sawmill and by merchantability specifications set by government.


This leaves a range of rejected roundwood trees and other materials that are unsuitable for lumber. Characteristics of rejected material can include undersized logs, rotting in parts, excessive twisting, cracks, large knots, or exposure to damage like fires. But that’s not to say the wood isn’t valuable.

The biomass industry emerged as a way to utilise wood and residues from forestry and sawmill processes. To sort through wood harvests and identify what wood is suitable for lumber, forest companies in British Columbia use a grading system.

The province’s Forest Act outlines that timber harvested from publicly owned Crown must be scaled (measured) and graded. This standardised system means all types of wood are utilised, and the full value of a harvest maximised for lumber and other wood products – ensuring forests remain valuable resources that are replanted and managed for future generations.

Making the grade

The policy of scaling and grading timber has been in action along British Columbia’s coastal forests since as long ago as 1902.  And while log grades have evolved and expanded with changes in wood utilisation and forest practices, today’s grading rules and conventions are very similar to those used more than a century ago. 

Timber scaling and grading can only be carried out by trained, licenced professionals, known as scalers. The processes and assessments they are required to carry out are rigorous and extensive, as outlined in a regularly updated Scaling Manual.

Scalers apply grading rules to determine: the log’s gross dimensions, estimate what portion of the log is available to produce a given product, and consider the quality of the product that could be produced from the log.

It’s the scaler’s job to assess the visible characteristics of each log and determine what can be recovered from the log given its size and quality characteristics. Results in British Columbia are reported in cubic metres, with one cubic metre of timber viewed as a cubic metre of solid wood (known as firmwood), free of any rot, hole, char, or missing wood. It’s then up to the manufacturer to get the best and most valuable product out of the available volume.

Grade rules typically include three components: minimum or maximum dimensions, a requirement that a percentage of the log’s volume must be available to manufacture a given product, a requirement that a percentage of the product manufactured from the log must meet or exceed a given quality.

By developing methods of taking measurements in British Columbia’s coastal and interior regions, meaningful data is generated to understand the health and quality of the province’s diverse forests.

Click to view/download. 

Grade code 1 – Premium sawlogs

The highest-quality and most valuable grade, a grade code 1 log must be 2.5 m or more in length and 10 cm or more in radius. It can also be a slab of wood 2.5 m long and 20 cm wide and 20 cm or more in thickness measured at a right angle to the growth rings.

For species like hemlock, cedar or balsam log or slab, at least 90% of the overall log can be manufactured into lumber, meaning it’s free of rot, chars, or holes, without too many knots or twists.

For other species, at least 75% can be manufactured into lumber. For all species, at least 75% of the lumber will be suitable for sale.

Grade code 2 – Sawlog 

Smaller than premium sawlogs, grade code 2 logs are also 2.5 m or longer but can be only 5 cm wide. Grade code 2 sawlogs can also be made from slabs of wood 2.5 m or more in length and 15 cm wide, with a 15 cm or more thickness measured at a right angle to the growth rings.

In species like hemlock or cedar at least 75% of the wood can be manufactured into lumber, while for a balsam logs, it’s at least 67%. For all other species, at least 50% of overall wood can be manufactured into lumber.

Grade code 4 – Lumber reject

Lumber reject is the grade given to a log or slab that’s higher in grade than firmwood reject, but not high-grade enough to meet the requirements for a sawlog, due to factors like rot, chars, and holes.

The reason there is no grade code 3 or 5 is because they were merged into the lumber reject category as the needs of forestry industries changed.

Grade code 6 – Undersized log

An undersized log is the higher in grade than firmwood reject but cut from a tree which was below the minimum diameter to be processed into high-quality, useable lumber.

Grade code Z – Firmwood reject

The lowest grade of wood, a Grade code Z log is not of a high enough quality to be made into lumber.

A log falls into the firmwood reject category if there is heart rot or a hole that runs the entire length of the log, and any firmwood around the defect makes up less than 50% of the overall log.

A scaler may also grade a log as Z if rot is in the log and they estimate the net length of the log to be less than 1.2 m. Sap rot or charred wood within a log where the residual firmwood is less than 10 cm in diameter at the butt end of the log also makes it Grade code Z.

Portions of healthier logs that are less than 10 cm in diameter or portion of a slab that is less than 10 cm in thickness, are also in this category.

Supporting healthy, resilient forests

Wood that is unsuitable for valuable sawlogs was once seen as a residual of forestry harvest and burned as a means of disposal, emitting CO2, and polluting local air. The biomass market, however, processes low-grade wood into a feedstock for renewable electricity, unlocking the full value of forest resources, as well as enhancing ecosystems.

Slash pile in British Columbia

Newly developed forest management practises aimed at mitigating against wildfires, enhancing areas of habitats for wildlife, or restoring fire or diseased-damaged ecosystems, typically generate high volumes of low-grade wood. Without a local biomass market that can purchase and make use of that wood there’s less incentive to carry out these kinds of activities.

As wildfires and pests, like the mountain pine beetle, become increasing threats for Canadian forests and the rural communities who depend on them for work and leisure, the biomass sector’s participation is key to supporting forest management that ensures healthy, resilient forests.

Click to view/download.

The key to sustainable forests? Thinking globally and managing locally

Key takeaways:

  • Working forests, where wood products are harvested, are explicitly managed to balance environmental and economic benefits, while encouraging healthy, growing forests that store carbon, provide habitats for wildlife, and space for recreation.
  • But there is no single management technique. The most effective methods vary depending on local conditions.
  • By employing locally appropriate methods, working forests have grown while supporting essential forestry industries and local economies.
  • Forests in the U.S. South, British Columbia, and Estonia all demonstrate how local management can deliver both environmental and economic wins.

Forests are biological, environmental, and economic powerhouses. Collectively they are home to most of the planet’s terrestrial biodiversity. They are responsible for absorbing 7.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per year, or roughly 1.5 times the amount of CO2 produced by the United States on an annual basis. And working forests, which are actively managed to generate revenue from wood products industries, are important drivers for the global economy, employing over 13 million people worldwide and generating $600 billion annually.

But as important as forests are globally, the key to maximizing working forests’ potential lies in smart, active forest management. While 420 million hectares of forest have been lost since 1990 through conversion to other land uses such as for agriculture, many working forests are actually growing both larger and healthier due to science-based management practices.

The best practices in working forests balance economic, social, and environmental benefits. But just as importantly, they are tailored to local conditions and framed by appropriate regional regulations, guidance, and best-practice.

The following describes how three different regions, from which Drax sources its biomass, manage their forests for a sustainable future.

British Columbia: Managing locally for global climate change

British Columbia is blanketed by almost 60 million hectares of forest – an area larger than France and Germany combined. Over 90% of the forest land is owned by Canada’s government, meaning the province’s forests are managed for the benefit of the Canadian people and in collaboration with First Nations.

From the province’s expanse of forested land, less than half a percent (0.36%) is harvested each year, according to government figures. This ensures stable, sustainable forests. However, there’s a need to manage against natural factors.

Click to view/download

In 2017, 2018, and 2020 catastrophic fires ripped through some of British Columbia’s most iconic forest areas, underscoring the threat climate change poses to the area’s natural resources. One response was to increase the removal of stands of trees in the forest, harvesting the large number of dead or dying trees created by pests that have grown more common in a warming climate.

By removing dead trees, diseased trees, and even some healthy trees, forest managers can reduce the amount of potential fuel in the forest, making devastating wildfires less likely. There are also commercial advantages to this strategy. Most of the trees removed are low quality and not suitable for processing into lumber. These trees can, however, still be used commercially to produce biomass wood pellets that offer a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. This means local communities don’t just get safer forests, they get safer forests that support the local economy.

The United States: Thinning for healthier forests

The U.S. South’s forests have expanded rapidly in recent decades, largely due to growth in working forests on private land. Annual forest growth in the region more than doubled from 193 million cubic metres of wood in 1953 to 408 million cubic meters by 2015.

This expansion has occurred thanks to active forest product markets which incentivise forest management investment. In the southern U.S. thinning is critical to managing healthy and productive pine forests.

Thinning is an intermediate harvest aimed at reducing tree density to allocate more resources, like nutrients, sunlight, and water, to trees which will eventually become valuable sawtimber. Thinning not only increases future sawtimber yields, but also improves the forest’s resilience to pest, disease, and wildfire, as well as enhancing understory diversity and wildlife habitat.

Click to view/download

While trees removed during thinning are generally undersized or unsuitable for lumber, they’re ideal for producing biomass wood pellets. In this way, the biomass market creates an incentive for managers to engage in practices that increase the health and vigour of forests on their land.

The results speak for themselves: across U.S. forestland the volume of annual net timber growth 36% higher than the volume of annual timber removals.

A managed working forest in the US South

Estonia: Seeding the future

Though Estonia is not a large country, approximately half of it is covered in trees, meaning forestry is integral to the country’s way of life. Historically, harvesting trees has been an important part of the national economy, and the government has established strict laws to ensure sustainable management practices.

These regulations have helped Estonia increase its overall forest cover from about 34% 80 years ago to over 50% today. And, as in the U.S. South, the volume of wood harvested from Estonia’s forests each year is less than the volume added by tree growth.

Sunrise and fog over forest landscape in Estonia

Sunrise and fog over forest landscape in Estonia

Estonia has managed to increase its growing forest stock by letting the average age of its forests increase. This is partially due to Estonia having young, fast-growing forests in areas where tree growth is relatively new. But it is also due to regulations that require harvesters to leave seed trees.

Seed trees are healthy, mature trees, the seeds from which become the forest’s next generation. By enforcing laws that ensure seed trees are not harvested, Estonia is encouraging natural regeneration of forests. As in the U.S. South protecting these seed trees from competition for water and nutrients means removing smaller trees in the area. While these smaller trees may not all be suitable for lumber, they are a suitable feedstock for biomass. It means managing for natural regeneration can still have economic, as well as environmental, advantages.

Different methods, similar results

Laws, landownership, and forestry practices differ greatly between the U.S. South, British Columbia, and Estonia, but all three are excellent examples of how local forest management contributes to healthy rural economies and sustained forest coverage.

While there are many different strategies for creating a balance between economic and environmental interests, all successful strategies have something in common: They encourage healthy, growing forests.

Drax seeks stakeholder feedback of Princeton Supply Base Report

Drax has recently purchased the Princeton pellet facility from the Princeton Standard Pellet Corporation & intends to add this site to Drax’s certification management program. Part of this process requires the development of mitigation measures for any specified risk ratings identified in the Sustainable Biomass Program endorsed Regional Risk Assessment (RRA) of British Columbia.

Here you will find a detailed summary of how Drax intend on carrying out mitigation measures for risk identified in the SBP RRA relating to the Princeton site and we want your input. As an active member of the forestry community in BC, your input is valuable to us when designing mitigation measures and we want to ensure we capture as many perspectives as possible.

For context, Drax are not forest managers. We source wood fibre waste like sawdust, shavings, chips, and bark from sawmills and other wood processing facilities. We also source wood fibre waste direct from the forest from sources like slash or roadside debris piles, wildfire damaged or insect damaged stands, wildfire proofing or habitat enhancement projects and occasionally receive pulp quality roundwood where pulp markets do not exist. Our ability to influence “on the ground” forest activities is limited due to our dissociation from forest management activities. Our mitigation measures are focused on information gathering and sharing in the form of detailed supplier mapping packages, in addition to monitoring, policies, participation in conservation efforts, and advocating for forest certification.

We want to hear your thoughts and comments as to managing Princeton’s certification & the effectiveness of those mitigation measures and if there are any other factors we should consider. The comment period will be open until November 26th, 2022, however, if you have comments after that date feel free to pass them along anyway. They may not make it into the final draft for this year, but we will certainly consider your comment for next years review, encouraging the system to mature and refine over time.

Thanks in advance for your time and consideration in reviewing our Princeton supply base report. We hope you will find the document informative, and we look forward to hearing some thought-provoking feedback.

Please feedback via email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Acquisition of 90,000 tonnes Canadian pellet plant

RNS Number: 8081U
Drax Group plc
(“Drax” or the “Group”; Symbol:DRX)

The plant, which has been operating since 1995, has the capacity to produce 90,000 tonnes of wood pellets a year, primarily from sawmill residues. Around half of the output from the plant is currently contracted to Drax.

The plant is located close to the Group’s Armstrong and Lavington plants and the port of Vancouver, and has 32 employees, who are expected to join Drax.

Following completion of the acquisition the plant is expected to contribute to the Group’s strategy to increase pellet production to 8 million tonnes a year by 2030.

The acquisition is expected to complete in Q3 2022.

Drax CEO, Will Gardiner

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO said:

“We look forward to welcoming the Princeton pellet plant team to Drax Group as we continue to build our global pellet production and sales business, supporting UK security of supply and increasing pellet sales to third parties in Asia and Europe as they displace fossil fuels from energy systems. Drax’s strategy to become a world leader in sustainable biomass, supports international decarbonisation goals and puts Drax at the heart of the global, green energy transition.”


Drax Investor Relations: Mark Strafford
+44 (0) 7730 763 949


Drax External Communications: Ali Lewis
+44 (0) 7712 670 888



View RNS here

Drax seeks stakeholder evaluation of wood procurement

Dear Stakeholder:

Drax manufactures compressed wood pellets produced from sustainably managed working forests.   Drax owns and operates seven wood pellet manufacturing plants in the US South: Amite Bioenergy in Gloster, Mississippi, Morehouse Bioenergy near Bastrop, Louisiana, LaSalle Bioenergy near Urania, Louisiana, Arkansas Bioenergy Leola (Leola AR), Arkansas Bioenergy Russellville (Russellville AR),  Alabama Pellets Aliceville (Aliceville AL), and Alabama Pellets Demopolis (Demopolis AL).  The AL Pellet operations were added to Drax’s portfolio in 2021 following the acquisition of Pinnacle Renewable Energy.

To assure sustainable sourcing, Drax participates in four certification programs: FSC® Chain of Custody & Controlled Wood, SFI® Chain of Custody & Fiber Sourcing, the PEFC™ Chain of Custody and the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP).  Underpinning Drax’s sustainability program is SBP’s Supply Base Evaluation which provides a formal framework for the evaluation of potential risks related to forest sourcing.

We are reaching out to you and your organization because of your knowledge and interest in the forest landscape and the multitude of benefits it supports.  A link to the Supply Base Evaluation is provided here.  Please email comments to: [email protected]. The survey will close on July 1, 2022.

Thank you in advance for any feedback you can provide.


Drax Team

An introduction to carbon accounting

Key takeaways:

  • Tracking, reporting, and calculating carbon emissions are a key part of progressing countries, industries, and companies towards net zero goals.
  • As a newly established discipline, carbon accounting still lacks standardisation and frameworks in how emissions are tracked, reduced, and mitigated.
  • The main carbon accounting standard used by businesses is the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, which lays out three ‘Scopes’ businesses should report and act upon.
  • Carbon accounting evolves from reporting in the use of goals and timeframes in which targets are met.
  • Timeframes are crucial in the deployment of technologies like carbon capture, removals, and achieving net zero.

How can countries and companies find a route to net zero emissions? Many organisations, countries and industries have pledged to balance their emissions before mid-century. They intend to do this through a combination of cutting emissions and removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Tracking and quantifying emissions, understanding output, reducing them, and setting tangible targets that can be worked towards are all central to tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions – especially when it comes to carbon dioxide (CO2). Emissions and energy consumption reporting is already common practice and compulsory for businesses over a certain size in the UK. However, carbon accounting takes this a step further.

“Carbon reporting is a statement of physical greenhouse gas emissions that occur over a given period,” explains Michael Goldsworthy, Head of Climate Change and Carbon Strategy at Drax. “Carbon accounting relates to how those emissions are then processed and counted towards specific targets. The methodologies for calculating emissions and determining contributions against targets may then have differing rules depending on which framework or standard is being reported against.”

Carbon accounting tools can help companies and counties understand their carbon footprint – how much carbon is being emitted as part of their operations, who is responsible for them, and how they can be effectively mitigated.

Like how financial accounting may seek to balance a company’s books and calculate potential profit, carbon accounting seeks to do the same with emissions, tracking what an entity emits, and what it reduces, removes, or mitigates. Carbon accounting is, therefore, crucial in understanding how countries and companies can contribute to reaching net zero.

A new space

How different organisations, countries and industries approach carbon accounting is still an evolving process.

“It’s as complex as financial accounting, but with financial accounting, there’s a long standing industry that relies on well-established practices and principles. Carbon accounting by contrast is such a new space,” explains Goldsworthy.

Regardless of its infancy, businesses and countries are already implementing standardised approaches to carbon accounting. Regulations such as emissions trading schemes and reporting systems, such as Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) and the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD), are beginning to deliver some degree of consistency in businesses’ carbon reporting.

Other standards such as the GHG Protocol have sought to provide a standardised basis for corporate reporting and accounting. Elsewhere, voluntary carbon markets (e.g. carbon offsets) have also evolved to allow transferral of carbon reductions or removals between businesses, providing flexibility to companies in delivering their climate commitments.

The challenge is in aligning these frameworks so that they work together. For example, emissions within a corporate inventory or offset programme must be accounted for in a way that is consistent with a national inventory.

To date, these accounting systems have evolved independently with different rules and methodologies. Beginning to implement detailed carbon accounting, upon which emissions reductions and removals can be based, requires standardised understanding of what they are and where they come from.

Reporting and tackling Scope One, Two, and Three emissions

The main carbon accounting standard used by businesses is the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. This voluntary carbon reporting standard can be used by countries and cities, as well as individual companies globally.

The GHG protocol categorises emissions in three different ‘scopes’, called Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3. Understanding, measuring, and reporting these is a key factor in carbon accounting and can drive meaningful emissions reduction and mitigation.

Scope One – Direct emissions

Scope One emissions are those that come as a direct result of a company or country’s activities. These can include fuel combustion at a factory’s facilities, for example, or emissions from a fleet of vehicles.

Scope One emissions are the most straightforward for an organisation to measure and report, and easier for organisations to directly act on.

Scope Two – Indirect energy emissions

Scope Two emissions are those which come from the generation of energy an organisation uses. These can include emissions form electricity, steam, heating, and cooling.

A business may buy electricity, for example, from an electricity supplier, which acquires power from a generator. If that generator is a fossil-fuelled power station the energy consumer’s Scope Two emissions will be greater than if it buys power from a renewable electricity supplier or generates its own renewable power.

The ability to change energy suppliers makes Scope Two relatively straightforward for organisations to act on, assuming renewable energy sources are available in the area.

Scope Three – All other indirect emissions

Scope Three is much broader. It covers upstream and downstream lifecycle emissions of products used or produced by a company, as well as other indirect emissions such as employee commuting and business travel emissions.

Identifying and reducing these emissions across supply and value chains can be difficult for businesses with complex supply lines and global distribution networks. They are also hard for companies to directly influence.

Add in factors like emissions mitigations or offsetting, and the carbon accounting can quickly become much more complex than simply reporting and reducing emissions that occur directly from a company’s activities. Nevertheless, these full-system overviews and whole-product lifecycle accounting are crucial to understanding the true impact of operations and organisations, and to reach climate goals.

Working to timelines

Setting goals with defined timelines and the development of rules that ensure consistent accounting is also crucial to implementing effective climate change mitigation frameworks throughout the global economy. Consider the UK’s aim to be net zero by 2050, or Drax’s ambition to be net negative by 2030, as goals with set timelines.

For many technologies, the time scales over which targets are set have added relevance. There are often upfront emissions to account for and operational emissions that may change over time. Take for example an electric vehicle: the climate benefit will be determined by emissions from construction and the carbon intensity of the electricity used to power it.

A timeline of BECCS at Drax [click to view/download]

Looking at a brief snapshot at the beginning of its life, say the first couple of years, might not show any climate benefit compared to a vehicle using an internal combustion engine. Over the lifetime of the vehicle, however, meaningful emissions savings may become clear – especially if the electricity powering the vehicle continues to decarbonise over time.

This provides a challenge when setting carbon emissions targets. Targets set too far in the future potentially risk inaction in the short term, while targets set over short periods risk disincentivising technologies that have substantial long-term mitigation potential. 

Delivering net zero

Some greenhouse gas emissions will be impossible to fully abate, such as methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture, while other sectors, like aviation, will be incredibly difficult to fully decarbonise. This makes carbon removal technologies all the more critical to ensuring net zero is achieved.

Technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – which combines low-carbon, biomass-fuelled renewable power generation with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to permanently remove emissions from the atmosphere – are already under development.

However, it is imperative that such technologies are accounted for using robust approaches to carbon accounting, ensuring all emission and removals flows across the value chain are accurately calculated in accordance with best scientific practice. In the case of BECCS, it’s vital that not only are emissions from processing and transporting biomass considered, but also its potential impact on the land sector.

Forests from which biomass is sourced will be managed for a variety of reasons, such as mitigating natural disturbance, delivering commercial returns, and preserving ecosystems. Accurate accounting of these impacts is therefore key to ensuring such technologies deliver meaningful reductions in atmospheric CO2within timeframes guided by science.

Accounting for net zero

While carbon accounting is crucial to reaching a true level of net zero in the UK and globally, where residual emissions are balanced against removals, the practice should not be used exclusively to deliver numerical carbon goals.

“To deliver net zero, it’s vital we have robust carbon accounting systems and targets in place, ensuring we reduce fossil emissions as far as possible while also incentivising carbon removal solutions,” says Goldsworthy.

“However, many removal solutions rely on the natural world and so it is critical that ecosystems are not only valued on a carbon basis but consider other environmental factors such as biodiversity as well.”

What is the carbon cycle?

What is the carbon cycle?

All living things contain carbon and the carbon cycle is the process through which the element continuously moves from one place in nature to another. Most carbon is stored in rock and sediment, but it’s also found in soil, oceans, and the atmosphere, and is produced by all living organisms – including plants, animals, and humans.

Carbon atoms move between the atmosphere and various storage locations, also known as reservoirs, on Earth. They do this through mechanisms such as photosynthesis, the decomposition and respiration of living organisms, and the eruption of volcanoes.

As our planet is a closed system, the overall amount of carbon doesn’t change. However, the level of carbon stored in a particular reservoir, including the atmosphere, can and does change, as does the speed at which carbon moves from one reservoir to another.

What is the role of photosynthesis in the carbon cycle?

Carbon exists in many different forms, including the colourless and odourless gas that is carbon dioxide (CO2). During photosynthesis, plants absorb light energy from the sun, water through their roots, and CO2 from the air – converting them into oxygen and glucose.

The oxygen is then released back into the air, while the carbon is stored in glucose, and used for energy by the plant to feed its stem, branches, leaves, and roots. Plants also release CO2 into the atmosphere through respiration.

Animals – including humans – who consume plants similarly digest the glucose for energy purposes. The cells in the human body then break down the glucose, with CO2 emitted as a waste product as we exhale.

CO2 is also produced when plants and animals die and are broken down by organisms such as fungi and bacteria during decomposition.

What is the fast carbon cycle?

The natural process of plants and animals releasing CO2 into the atmosphere through respiration and decomposition and plants absorbing it via photosynthesis is known as the biogenic carbon cycle. Biogenic refers to something that is produced by or originates from a living organism. This cycle also incorporates CO2 absorbed and released by the world’s oceans.

The biogenic carbon cycle is also called the “fast” carbon cycle, as the carbon that circulates through it does so comparatively quickly. There are nevertheless substantial variations within this faster cycle. Reservoir turnover times – a measure of how long the carbon remains in one location – range from years for the atmosphere to decades through to millennia for major carbon sinks on land and in the ocean.

What is the slow carbon cycle?

In some circumstances, plant and animal remains can become fossilised. This process, which takes millions of years, eventually leads to the formation of fossil fuels. Coal comes from the remains of plants that have been transformed into sedimentary rock. And we get crude oil and natural gas from plankton that once fell to the ocean floor and was, over time, buried by sediment.

The rocks and sedimentary layers where coal, crude oil, and natural gas are found form part of what is known as the geological or slow carbon cycle. From this cycle, carbon is returned to the atmosphere through, for example, volcanic eruptions and the weathering of rocks. In the slow carbon cycle, reservoir turnover times exceed 10,000 years and can stretch to millions of years.

How do humans impact the carbon cycle?

Left to its own devices, Earth can keep CO2 levels balanced, with similar amounts of CO2 released into and absorbed from the air. Carbon stored in rocks and sediment would slowly be emitted over a long period of time. However, human activity has upset this natural equilibrium.

Burning fossil fuel releases carbon that’s been sequestered in geological formations for millions of years, transferring it from the slow to the fast (biogenic) carbon cycle. This influx of fossil carbon leads to excessive levels of atmospheric CO2, that the biogenic carbon cycle can’t cope with.

As a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun between the Earth and its atmosphere, CO2 is essential to human existence. Without CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the planet could become too cold to sustain life.

However, the drastic increase in atmospheric CO2 due to human activity means that too much heat is now retained between Earth and the atmosphere. This has led to a continued rise in the average global temperature, a development that is part of climate change.

Where does biomass fit into the carbon cycle?

One way to help reduce fossil carbon is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, including sustainably sourced biomass. Feedstock for biomass energy includes plant material, wood, and forest residue – organic matter that absorbs CO2 as part of the biogenic carbon cycle. When the biomass is combusted in energy or electricity generation, the biogenic carbon stored in the organic matter is released back into the atmosphere as CO2.

This is distinctly different from the fossil carbon released by oil, gas, and coal. The addition of carbon capture and storage to bioenergy – creating BECCS – means the biogenic carbon absorbed by the organic matter is captured and sequestered, permanently removing it from the atmosphere. By capturing CO2 and transporting it to geological formations – such as porous rocks – for permanent storage, BECCS moves CO2 from the fast to the slow carbon cycle.

This is the opposite of burning fossil fuels, which takes carbon out of geological formations (the slow carbon cycle) and emits it into the atmosphere (the fast carbon cycle). Because BECCS removes more carbon than it emits, it delivers negative emissions.

Fast facts

  • According to a 2019 study, human activity including the burning of fossil fuels releases between 40 and 100 times more carbon every year than all volcanic eruptions around the world.
  • In March 2021, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that average CO2 in the atmosphere for that month was 14 parts per million. This was 50% higher than at the time of the Industrial Revolution (1750-1800).
  • There is an estimated 85 billion gigatonne (Gt) of carbon stored below the surface of the Earth. In comparison, just 43,500 Gt is stored on land, in oceans, and in the atmosphere.
  • Forests around the world are vital carbon sinks, absorbing around 7.6 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

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What is sustainable forest management?

Sustainable forest management is frequently defined in terms of providing a balance of social, environmental, and economic benefits, not just for today but for the future too. It might be seen as the practice of maintaining forests to ensure they remain healthy, absorb more carbon than they release, and can continue to be enjoyed and used by future generations.

To achieve this, foresters apply science, knowledge, and standards that help ensure forests continue to play an important role in the wellbeing of people and the planet.

Managed forests, also called working forests, fulfil a variety of environmental, social, and economic functions. These range from forests managed to attract certain desired wildlife species, to forests grown to provide saw timber and reoccurring revenue for landowners.

How are forests sustainably managed?

How forests are managed depends on landowner goals – managing for recreation and wildlife, focusing on maximising production of wood products, or both. Each forest requires management tailored to its owner’s or manager’s objectives.

There are many ways to manage forests to keep them healthy – there is no ‘one size fits all’ – but keeping track of how they are doing can be tricky. One alternative for monitoring forests is to use satellite imagery.

One common sustainable forestry practice is thinning, which involves periodically removing smaller, unhealthy, or diseased trees to enable stronger ones to thrive. Thinning reduces competition between trees for resources like sunlight and water, and it can also help promote biodiversity by creating more space for other forest flora.

The wood removed from forests through thinning is sometimes not high-quality enough to be used in industries such as construction or furniture. However, the biomass industry can use it to make compressed wood pellets; a feedstock for renewable source electricity.

By providing a market for low-quality wood, pellet production encourages landowners to carry out thinnings. This practice improves the health of the forest, and helps support better growth, greater carbon storage, and creates more valuable woodland.

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What are the environmental benefits of sustainably managed forests?

Through their ability to act as carbon sinks, forests are an important part of meeting global climate goals like the Paris Agreement and the UK’s own target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

When managed effectively through thinning or active harvesting, and replanting and regeneration, forests can often sequester – or absorb and store – more carbon than forests that are left untouched, increasing productivity and improving planting material.

Harvesting trees before they reach an age when growth slows or plateaus can help prevent fire damage, pests, and disease, so timing of final cutting is important. Though the vast majority of timber from such cutting will go to other markets (construction, furniture etc) and secure higher prices from those markets, being able to sell lower quality wood for biomass provides the landowner with some extra revenue.

Sustainably managed forests also help achieve other environmental goals, such as sustaining biodiversity, protecting sensitive sites and providing clean air and water. Managed forests also have substantial water absorption capacity preventing flooding by slowing the flow of sudden downpours and helping to prevent nearby rivers and streams from overfilling.

Wood from working forests also help tackle climate change in that high-value wood from harvested trees can be used to make timber for the construction or furniture sectors. These wood products lock up carbon for extended periods of time, and the wood can be used at end-of life to displace fossil fuels. Using wood also means materials such as concrete, bricks or steel are not used, and these materials have a large carbon footprint compared to wood.

What are the socioeconomic benefits of sustainably managed forests?

There are also social and economic benefits to managing forests. Sustainably managed working forests make vital contributions both to people and to the planet.

The commercial use of wood in industries like furniture and construction drives revenue for landowners. This encourages landowners to continue to replant forests and manage them in a sustainable way that continues to deliver returns.

Healthy forests can also improve living standards for local communities for jobs and helping to address unemployment in rural regions. Managed forests can also improve access for recreation. On a larger scale, sustainable forestry can offer a valuable export for regions and nations and foster trade between countries.

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