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Image taken from the top of a mountain showing mixed forests and Bavarian mountain views. (Photo: Felix Mittermeier)

What is Improved Forest Management?

The figures in the German Forest Condition Survey Report 2022 (Bericht zur Waldzustandserhebung 2022) are worrying: Only around one in five trees in German forests is considered healthy. More than every third tree has significant damage to its crown. This is due to climate change, which promotes drought, pests, and heat. Forests therefore urgently need to be adapted to the climate which is expensive. But can we afford to continue doing nothing?

No. We are dependent on healthy forests as essential carbon sinks. Leaving forests to their own devices is a risk for the forest and for us. We therefore need to rethink our approach by taking responsibility as a society and subsidizing new forestry practices that not only safeguard but also optimize the potential of our forests.

This is precisely where Improved Forest Management (IFM) comes in: The management of forests is changed to store more carbon and make forests more resilient.


What Does Improved Forest Management Entail?

Improved Forest Management primarily aims to increase the CO2 storage of the forest and its products through changes in forest management. In addition to Improved Forest Management (IFM), there are other ways to optimize the potential of forests as CO2 sinks. As the name suggests, forest conservation aims to protect forests. This can be particularly useful in regions where - unlike in most European countries - there are no strict laws to protect forests. Afforestation, reforestation and agroforestry projects, on the other hand, aim to create more forests in order to store more CO2. Such projects are particularly important in some countries of the global South due to illegal deforestation. In Germany, on the other hand, the Federal Forest Act states that deforestation is only permitted with a valid reason and approval. In addition, such areas must subsequently be reforested or converted to another permitted type of land use. The same applies to damaging events, after which bare forest areas in Germany must be replanted within a specified period of time. In European countries, IFM projects are therefore particularly suitable for increasing CO2 storage in forests and simultaneously promoting their resilience.

How does Improved Forest Management work?

IFM aims in particular to increase the CO2 storage capacity of forests and forest products. This is achieved through a series of targeted measures: Firstly, the rotation periods - i.e. the periods between two timber harvests - are extended, making trees older and therefore taller and thus able to store significantly more CO2. This is in contrast to the conventional practice of harvesting forest stands primarily according to economic targets (see Fig. 1), i.e. when the optimum has been reached from an economic point of view. Instead of removing the trees after 60 years, in the following example they can grow for another 20 years and immediately store more carbon.

Graph showing the carbon storage difference in years with and without a climate protection project.

Fig. 1: CO2 storage in the forest with shorter, economically sensible rotation periods and longer, CO2-optimized rotation periods (own illustration).

By carefully removing individual trees, IFM projects help to protect the forest structure and young plants in particular and promote natural regeneration. Furthermore, IFM places a strong focus on the conversion to climate-resilient and healthier forests and deadwood and other biomass are left in the forest to preserve natural habitats and promote biodiversity.

Benefits of Improved Forest Management

Fire salamander on top of some leaves in a forest.

The population of the fire salamander has declined significantly over the last 20 years. (Photo: Edgar Winkler)

Improved Forest Management offers a number of benefits that have a lasting positive impact on nature, the climate, and society. Various studies have shown that IFM can increase carbon storage worldwide by 0.2 to 2.1 gigatons of CO2e per year (Griscom et al. 2017, Roe et al. 2019, Austin et al. 2020). 2.1 gigatons of CO2 (or 2.1 billion tons) is equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of some of Europe's largest emitters, namely Germany, France, Italy, Poland, and the Czech Republic combined.

Another advantage of Improved Forest Management is that it makes forests more resilient to forest fires, droughts, and other events - damage that would be associated with large CO2 storage losses. In addition, the conversion of monocultural forests to more climate-resilient mixed forests promotes biodiversity. This creates healthy habitats for a large number of animal and plant species. IFM also helps to maintain soil quality and improve the water balance, which strengthens the ecological resilience of forests. And finally, managed forests secure the livelihoods of many people by creating sustainable sources of income and jobs. In 2013, the Thünen Institute recorded almost 68,000 people employed in the forestry sector in Germany alone.

Challenges of IFM projects

So is Improved Forest Management the perfect answer to all questions about the effectiveness of CO2 projects? Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. IFM also poses challenges that companies wishing to invest in climate protection projects should consider beforehand.

One challenge is the reliable calculation of the baseline, i.e. the initial scenario of a project. To avoid overestimating the CO2 storage capacity, it is important to include a risk buffer for unforeseeable events (e.g. forest fires or storm damage) from the outset. OCELL plans a risk buffer of at least ten percent for all projects. OCELL also ensures a reliable baseline by conducting digital forest inventories and applying the net present value method. This method enables the calculation of economically ideal rotation times, i.e. when it makes the most financial sense to remove wood from the forest. The climate protection projects extend the rotation periods beyond the economic optimum, so that the forest stores more CO2 for longer.

Another point of criticism comes from the US, namely that evidence-based permanence, i.e. how long the CO2 is stored, needs to be researched in more detail. Most standards speak of permanence if the projects have a duration of at least 30 to 50 years. Digital MRV systems (digital monitoring, reporting, and verification system) are also important in this context to collect reliable data and increase transparency. Finally, IFM projects are associated with additional costs. These costs for sustainable management, the loss of income due to reduced timber harvesting, and the expenses for implementing the project (setting up, certifying, monitoring) can be high. Financial support from the private sector can help here. By purchasing CO2 certificates, companies reward forest owners for the ecosystem services of their forests and enable improved forest management to optimize CO2 storage and forest resilience.


Improved Forest Management stands for a holistic, sustainable approach that can help companies and countries achieve their net-zero targets. By increasing the resilience and carbon stocks in forests and avoiding CO2 emissions, IFM makes a significant contribution to climate protection. At the same time, it promotes biodiversity. Experts expect IFM projects to gain increasing acceptance. New technologies that ensure greater accuracy and transparency also contribute to this.

With OCELL's forest projects, you promote Improved Forest Management in European forests and make an important contribution to climate protection.

Find out more about OCELL's climate protection projects here.