The potential of forests to supply the European bioeconomy
An increasing number of industries are committing to transition to a bioeconomy, to replace everything from cotton to plastic to concrete with biomass alternatives. They are supported by a European policy environment that is encouraging this shift. But what does this mean for forests?
Fern and denkhausbremen commissioned a report to give an overview of current and projected levels of EU wood production; uses and impacts on forests, the climate and biodiversity: ‘Stemming the Tide - the potential of forests to supply the European bioeconomy’.
Although forecasting is a difficult exercise as the amount of wood that a forest can supply depends on the rate of climate change and responses to it across the economy, the findings were clear: multiple policies are increasing demand for wood for a range of sectors, which is increasing production (harvesting) as well as imports of tropical fibres. As a result, forests are absorbing and storing less and less carbon dioxide, making it harder to meet climate commitments.
Increasing the European bioeconomy without reducing consumption would be a disaster. Policies should therefore focus on ways to decrease planned roundwood production (offset partly by increased salvage logging); increase recycling (requiring products to be designed, priced and used accordingly); and emphasise the cascading wood principle, with less wood being used for paper and burned for electricity and heat.
The study concludes that there is already a lack of woody material available and a lack of forecasts about the likely future demand for biomass. If the bioeconomy is to help address the climate, biodiversity and waste emergencies, it must start from an understanding of how much socially, environmentally, and commercially acceptable wood there is available.