A distributed approach to accounting for carbon in wood products

  • Eric S. Marland
  • Kirk Stellar
  • Gregg H. Marland
Original Article


With an evolving political environment of commitments to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, and of markets to trade in emissions permits, there is growing scientific, political, and economic need to accurately evaluate carbon (C) stocks and flows—especially those related to human activities. One component of the global carbon cycle that has been contentious is the stock of carbon that is physically held in harvested wood products. The carbon stored in wood products has been sometimes overlooked, but the amount of carbon contained in wood products is not trivial, it is increasing with time, and it is significant to some Parties. This paper is concerned with accurate treatment of harvested wood products in inventories of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. The methodologies outlined demonstrate a flexible way to expand current methods beyond the assumption of a simple, first-order decay to include the use of more accurate and detailed data while retaining the simplicity of simple formulas. The paper demonstrates that a more accurate representation of decay time can have significant economic implications in a system where emissions are taxed or emissions permits are traded. The method can be easily applied using only data on annual production of wood products and two parameters to characterize their expected lifetime. These methods are not specific to wood products but can be applied to long-lived, carbon-containing products from sources other than wood, e.g. long-lived petrochemical products. A single unifying approach that is both simple and flexible has the potential to be both more accurate in its results, more efficient in its implementation, and economically important to some Parties.


Carbon in wood products Carbon sequestration Carbon accounting CO2 emissions 



The authors are grateful to Kim Pingoud, Ken Skog, and Fabian Wagner for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. GM was supported by the Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research, US Department of Energy.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric S. Marland
    • 1
  • Kirk Stellar
    • 1
  • Gregg H. Marland
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Mathematical SciencesAppalachian State UniversityBooneUSA
  2. 2.Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Environmental Sciences DivisionOak RidgeUSA

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