Forests are often perceived as being at the nexus of the solutions to the two main environmental crises that are plaguing our planet today: Climate change and biodiversity loss. The EU has conceived the European Green Deal with the specific purpose to mitigate both phenomena. The Biodiversity Strategy is a critical component to its implementation.
In May 2020, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (COM(2020) 380) was adopted. In the text, under section 2.2.5 (“Win-win solutions for energy generation”), there is reference to a report on the use of forest biomass for energy production by the end of 2020, and there is an accompanying Action of the EU Bioeconomy Strategy entitled “Assessment of the EU and global biomass supply and demand and related sustainability”.
We have written this report in response. In this document we cover the whole value chain of woody biomass, from the primary wood production, to the processing and uses of wood; to its re-use and end of life. We first describe the data arena of woody biomass for bioenergy in the EU to address the question: What are the available data sources about woody biomass for bioenergy in the EU and how can they be used for a harmonised EU-level assessment? Based on the data sources we then explain the situation in the forest-based sector in Europe, emphasising the interlinkages between the forest-sector industries and energy sectors. When highlighting the interactions between the forest-based industries and the energy sector, and consequentially both the resilience and the fragility of both, certain trends emerge. From the data we see that the overall reported uses of woody biomass are increasing.
The second question we attempt to answer is: What are the trends in the different sources of woody biomass used for bioenergy purposes? Furthermore, when digging into the available statistics, it becomes evident that there are inconsistencies in the available data: There is a notable gap between reported uses and sources of woody biomass. Roundwood removals estimates derived from material and energy uses indicate significant underestimations in official removals data and the underestimated removals can be assigned to the energy sector.
A follow-up question is therefore: Why are the quantities reported as sources for woody biomass in Europe far below the quantities of wood reported as being used in Europe? Natural disturbances followed by salvage loggings have dramatically increased in Central Europe from 2014 to 2018, bringing significant amounts of damaged wood on the market. The oversupply of damaged wood in the short term might distort the market by reducing wood prices and switching wood flows for energy.
A fourth question we attempt to answer is: What are the implications of natural disturbances on wood supply?
The fifth question we attempt to answer is: How can we ensure that forest management practices that are beneficial to the climate are also beneficial to biodiversity? We assess three management practices that are associated to the demand for wood for bioenergy. Through a deep literature review, we compare the impacts of the different management practices on both biodiversity and climate change and propose “win-win” management practices that contribute positively to both. We also identify “lose-lose” situations whereby damage is done both in terms of the climate and in terms of forest ecosystems. In this way we describe the field-level implications of management to get the wood on the market in the first place.