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Bioenergy policies and targets: opportunity for, or threat to, the European forests?

Published: 16 October 2007

Geneva

The recent surge of interest in renewable energies and, in particular, biomass energies has complex consequences all over the world. UNECE and FAO are together exploring these impacts and opportunities for the forest sector in the European region, so that policy making may be based on the most reliable and recent information and analysis.

Wulf Killmann, Director of the FAO Forest Industries and Products Division said: “Wood is at present by far the largest renewable energy source in Europe and higher demand for renewable energy is causing price increases, even local shortages, of wood. Some wood using industries have expressed concern about the future availability and price of wood. Many countries and the EU have set policy targets for the use of biomass or renewable energy, but it is by no means clear how much wood energy can contribute to achieving these targets, or what the consequences will be for other wood users. There is an urgent need to improve our understanding of the issues and thus to achieve the best possible policy choices.”

To address these questions, a UNECE/FAO policy forum on “Opportunities and impacts of bioenergy policies and targets on the forest and other sectors: what is the future contribution of wood to meeting UNECE region’s energy needs?” was held in Geneva on 10 October 2007, in conjunction with the annual session of the UNECE Timber Committee.

A study on "wood resources availability and demand - implications of renewable energy policies" by the UNECE/FAO Timber Section in cooperation with the University of Hamburg was presented at the Forum. Analysing national and European policies and targets for renewable energy, it showed that huge extra amounts of wood would be required in the future if these targets were to be met.

Kit Prins, Chief of the UNECE/FAO Timber Section explained that research is urgently needed on various sources and uses of wood, which are currently not covered by statistics. "Many countries do not know for example how much wood is used for energy by private households, which is a major component of domestic energy use."

Mr. Prins summarized the discussions and findings of the Policy Forum:

  • "As shown in the study, major amounts of wood, which are likely to outstrip domestic supply, are required to meet the renewable energy targets as they are interpreted now. It is a major challenge for all stakeholders, in particular the forest and the energy sector, to define a realistic role for wood energy in meeting renewable energy targets.

  • However more wood than at present can be mobilized on a sustainable level. Therefore, supportive laws, regulations and policies are needed, as well as information and motivation of forest owners, particularly small forest owners, to mobilise wood supply. Forest owners themselves see a potential to increase the harvest substantially.

  • The role of wood in energy supply has to be defined according to potential wood supply, from domestic sources and imports; however, impacts on other wood users, namely the existing wood-based industries, also have to be considered when setting policy targets.

  • When determining the sustainable wood supply, not only the annual growth of wood in the forests is of importance; wood sources from outside the forest, like hedgerows and urban trees, post-consumer recovered wood or wood industry residues also have to be taken into account.

  • It is important to understand that overall energy efficiency is vital to achieve renewable energy targets, but also techniques based on renewable sources other than wood need to be developed to achieve the targets, such as energy generation from agricultural biomass, wind, solar, geothermal or hydro.

  • At the end of the day, decisions on future land use will be crucial: determining the future land for supply of wood for the wood processing and energy industry, land use for nature conservation, and, even more important, agricultural land use for food supply or energy crops."

The Timber Committee will build on the information provided at the policy forum to develop a more accurate and comprehensive picture of the situation. Statistics, presentations and the background paper are all available online:

www.unece.org/trade/timber/docs/tc-sessions/tc-65/policyforum/

or contact

JKit Prins

Chief, UNECE/FAO Timber Section
Trade and Timber Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Phone: +41 (0)22 917 2874
Fax: +41 (0)22 917 0041
E-mail: Christopher.Prins@unece.org

Ref: ECE/TIM/07/P05


United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

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CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

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