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Wood energy consumption increase is here to stay

Published: 25 September 2009


Wood energy consumption has increased by 3.5% annually between 2005 and 2007 in UNECE’s 56 Member States, concluded a UNECE/FAO workshop on “Current and future woody biomass for energy – Monitoring use and understanding technology” held on 15-16 September 2009 in Riga.

The data are based on the answers to UNECE/FAO’s Joint Wood Energy Enquiry (JWEE), a questionnaire sent to UNECE Member States since 2004. This trend is expected to continue or even accelerate as many European governments have enacted policies to promote wood energy as part of their plans to meet the European Union’s ambitious target to reach 20% of energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

These policies aim not only at mitigating climate change, but also at increasing energy security by promoting alternatives to imported and increasingly costly fossil fuels, a growing concern for many countries.

These policies, however, are having consequences on traditional forest products markets. Energy promotion presents challenges to mobilize additional supplies of biomass, especially in the short term, despite Europe’s forests currently being harvested at rates of approximately 60% of their annual growth, i.e. far below their sustainable potential. Subsidies and tariffs to promote greater wood energy production, trade and use will affect the markets, and can have an unexpected impact on traditional wood and paper product manufacturers.

For wood and paper products production, most countries have good information available for the current and expected wood fibre demands; however, current wood energy promotion policies are impacting the wood and paper industry and increase the likelihood of severe competition for the wood fibres. Conversely, forest owners and residue producers have profited by having the alternative markets for low-grade wood and processing by-products, especially at this time of economic crisis. This scenario necessitates establishing realistic targets for renewable energy sources, balancing traditional wood processing industry needs with the growing energy needs combined with the sustainable availability of woody biomass in all its various forms, in the short, medium and long term.

Main conclusions of the workshop:

Main recommendations of the workshop:

The UNECE/FAO workshop on “Current and future woody biomass for energy – Monitoring use and understanding technology” was hosted by the Latvian Ministry of Agriculture in Riga on 15-16 September 2009. The meeting was organized by the Riga Technological University, the UNECE/FAO Timber Section and the FAO Subregional Office for Central and Eastern Europe. It was sponsored by the Swedish Ministry of Agriculture as well as the UNECE and the FAO. It was held under the auspices of the UNECE Timber Committee and the FAO European Forestry Commission, and mandated by their Working Party on Forest Economics and Statistics.

The workshop provided an opportunity for cross-sectoral cooperation and collaboration between stakeholders. The 60 participants from 11 countries represented governments (including policymakers and statisticians) research institutions and universities, trade associations, private industry and international organizations. They discussed the issues on wood energy data development, quality and dissemination in relation to the urgent need to be able to more accurately assess the growing demand for wood-based energy and its supply. Wood-based energy produced with modern production and combustion technology mitigates climate change as it is a carbon neutral solution to replacing non-renewable fossil fuels.

The Joint Wood Energy Enquiry (JWEE) was launched in 2003. The third round will start in the coming weeks.  Countries responding to the JWEE have an advantage in preparing their National Renewable Energy Action Plan (which in line with the EU targets for 2020, should be ready by the end of June 2010), as clear, factual information is a critical basis for policymakers.

For further information please contact:

Ed Pepke

Forest Products Marketing Specialist

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 2872

Fax: + 41 (0)22 917 0621

Workshop website: http://timber.unece.org/index.php?id=195

Ref: ECE/TIM/09/P05

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Palais des Nations, 

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44

Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05