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Energy wood poses a challenge for European forests

The production and use of forest energy wood are amongst the topics that receive increasing attention in the renewable energy context, not only from policy makers, scientists and stakeholders of the energy sector, but also from stakeholders and interest groups representing other sectors like agriculture, forestry, environment, industry and consumers. Indeed, forest biomass is characterized by several features which can be considered beneficial in the European context. These include security of domestic supply, more limited reliance on fossil energy source imports, as well as the possibility to diversify the energy mix in the European Union.

The newly published report "Energy wood: A challenge for European forests" addresses from a critical perspective the controversy and complexity of the production and use of energy wood from forests in three realms: science, forest management and policy making. The report shows that not only benefits are associated with this energy source, but also drawbacks. For example, forest energy wood is an opportunity for diversifying rural economy because it represents a further product that forest owners can commercialize, but its intensive production risks to hinder forests´ likability by tourists potentially reducing chances for rural development.

The report presents an overview of scientific studies on energy wood potential, their methods and results. Variations in estimations are due to different ways to account for uncertainties and to articulate assumptions. In order to increase their reliability and to avoid overestimations, studies should address the supply side of energy wood rather than the demand side, and apply precautionary approaches to account for uncertainties.

The report also addresses the practical context of forest management and the synergies and conflicts amongst energy wood production and use and environmental forest functions. Climate change mitigation and forest fire protection are the functions which present the most synergies with energy wood production and use, while biodiversity conservation and water and soil protection the most trade-offs. Forest management activities aimed at producing energy wood should maximise synergies and develop compromises between conflicting forest functions, for example by avoiding time overlapping between highly impacting forestry activities and birds breeding seasons, and by carrying out energy wood collection together with timber extraction activities to avoid excessive soil compaction.

The author, Francesca Ferranti, points out that in policy making, coherence and coordination should be improved amongst policies affecting the forest energy wood context at the EU level, by a) prioritizing competing policy objectives at EU level, and by b) better including forest energy wood related matters in policies which are relevant for the energy wood context. Emphasis should be given to biodiversity policy. The policy enthusiasm towards the opportunities offered by forest energy wood will need to be weighed against the likely negative implications linked to the practical matters of forest energy wood production and use, in order not to substitute a currently unsustainable fossil based energy path with similarly unsustainable renewable energy solutions.

More information:
The report is available online: http://www.efi.int/files/attachments/publications/efi_tr_95_ferranti_2014.pdf

Provided by European Forest Institute