AbstractBioenergy from forest residues can be used to avoid fossil carbon emissions, but removing biomass from forests reduces carbon stock sizes and carbon input to litter and soil. The magnitude and longevity of these carbon stock changes determine how effective measures to utilize bioenergy from forest residues are to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the energy sector and to mitigate climate change. In this study, we estimate the variability of GHG emissions and consequent climate impacts resulting from producing bioenergy from stumps, branches and residual biomass of forest thinning operations in Finland, and the contribution of the variability in key factors, i.e. forest residue diameter, tree species, geographical location of the forest biomass removal site and harvesting method, to the emissions and their climate impact. The GHG emissions and the consequent climate impacts estimated as changes in radiative forcing were comparable to fossil fuels when bioenergy production from forest residues was initiated. The emissions and climate impacts decreased over time because forest residues were predicted to decompose releasing CO2 even if left in the forest. Both were mainly affected by forest residue diameter and climatic conditions of the forest residue collection site. Tree species and the harvest method of thinning wood (whole tree or stem‐only) had a smaller effect on the magnitude of emissions. The largest reduction in the energy production climate impacts after 20 years, up to 62%, was achieved when coal was replaced by the branches collected from Southern Finland, whereas the smallest reduction 7% was gained by using stumps from Northern Finland instead of natural gas. After 100 years the corresponding values were 77% and 21%. The choice of forest residue biomass collected affects significantly the emissions and climate impacts of forest bioenergy.

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