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Getting working forests back on track

Tracking forests, forest products or other biogenic materials like oil palm and its derivatives, back to its origin is a reoccurring theme in sustainability demands and certification schemes – if you can’t measure, quantify and verify it, it doesn’t exist. A new evaluation on 2015 data to provide an estimate of global forest extent in dryland biomes has found 467 million hectares (ha) of forest with over 10 percent tree cover that has never been reported before.

Entitled “The extent of forest in dryland biomes”, the study was published in the May 12 issue of Science. It is significant as the author’s estimates are 40 to 47 percent higher than previous estimates and on a global basis suggest global forest cover is at least 9 percent higher than previously thought, which if it holds up may have knock-on implications for the ongoing biogenic carbon cycle and carbon debt debates.

The latest contribution to that end is a synthesis report “Multi-functionality and sustainability in the European Union’s forests” from the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which draws similar conclusions and recommendations as the Chatham House report. An important aim of the said report is “to stimulate further discussions between policy-makers and stakeholders who are working in areas that could impact on the future of EU forests.”

No doubt such discussions are underway, a shame though that are usually held far removed from where the most important stakeholders are, the ones it affects. The recent Nordic-Baltic Bioenergy conference that was held in Helsinki, Finland would have been one such opportune moment. One wonders what EASAC would make of a project like Stora Enso’s new pellet mill at its Ala sawmill in Ljusne, Sweden that my colleague Anders Haaker reports from in the latest issue of Bioenergy International.

That we had 9 percent more forest cover in 2015 that previously thought is great but leaves no room for complacency. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has also warned that deforestation in some regions in Asia- Pacific, where forestland is converted to other uses is cause for serious concern endangering the fulfilment raising fears that one of the world’s key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) SDG 1 to end poverty may not be achieved by the 2030 deadline.

Instead, the takeaway is that, despite everything, people care though their motivations vary. It is an insight and raison d’etre exploited to various degrees by environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGO’s) yet ought to be adopted by others too. Enviva’s track and trace in the pellets sector and Neste’s challenge regarding palm oil fatty acid distillate (PFAD) are welcome initiatives.

Indeed a very fitting one as Neste’s native Finland celebrates its centennial as a nation while 2017 marks a century since the first commercial oil palm plantation in Malaysia was established from which a whole new agri-based industry was born. While we’re at it, Canada, custodians of the world’s second largest forest resource celebrate 150 years.

Finally while on the subject of forests two happenings of particular importance for those working in the forest or in downstream solid wood processing industries, Ligna and Elmia Wood. The former kicked off in Hannover, Germany earlier this week and Markku Björkman is on site to give us the lowdown. The latter is in just a fortnight’s time. Bioenergy International along with our sister publication Tidningen Bioenergi will also be in attendance on site and you are welcome to drop by stand 196 and share your forest biomass news and views.

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