An open letter signed by over 550 scientists, and with backing from the larger international community, has been sent to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, and European Council President Charles Michel, calling for "climate smart forestry" management.
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The letter, which was sent on October 27, 2022, has been welcomed by a wide range of forestry and bioenergy industry and academic stakeholders.
With forests increasingly under threat from a warming climate, the signatories call for “climate smart forestry” management, highlighting the essential role forests play in the environment as they store carbon and have the capacity to mitigate climate change while increasing biodiversity.
However, changing climate conditions are increasingly placing forests at risk which can only be reduced with proper management and the use of wood and biomass products in order to secure a sustainable bioeconomy and renewable energy production.
The letter points out that while forest management focuses on maintaining the health of the forest and primarily generating wood for wood- and fibre products, an inevitable by-product of harvesting, processing, and manufacturing wood products is the generation of low-quality material which has little or no other use other than for energy purposes.
With proper forest management, the use of wood for energy is a co-product of harvest and of the processing of wood for products, the letter stated.
The letter stresses that avoiding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels can only be achieved through proper forest management and wood utilization, the latter of which also includes energy purposes.
The use of wood for energy can “substitute fossil energy and is a significant part of climate protection policy in all European countries.”
The letter notes that the climate benefits of wood products are numerous, as they create long-lasting items while embedding carbon and replacing more energy-intensive materials.
In addition, wood- and fibre products can support a renewable energy supply, establishing synergies with other forest-based industries and significantly contributing to climate policy in EU countries.
Energy substitution is an integral component of a managed forest and the associated wood products, the letter mentions, and the ongoing negotiations at the EU level regarding the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III), represent “a great opportunity to increase environmental ambition.”
That said, the signatories caution against a ban on the use of wood for energy from sustainably managed forests.
Banning the use of wood for energy from sustainably managed forests and increasing the share of EU forests under protection is not suitable to support Europe’s climate protection policy, has no further benefits for biodiversity, and hinders circular bioeconomy, the letter stated.
Climate Smart Forestry
The letter concludes that ecologically driven sustainable forestry, which keeps wood volumes constant and makes use of the increment for products and energy while substituting fossil-derived products and fuels is “climate-smart”.
According to lead author Professor Roland Irslinger, the term “Climate Smart Forestry” (CSF) integrates climate goals with forest management.
CSF is more than just storing carbon in forest ecosystems; it is incorporating greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions, increasing forest ecosystem resilience, biodiversity criteria, and sustainably increasing forest owner productivity and income into the silviculture strategy.
CSF takes into account the regional peculiarities of natural factors and socioeconomic circumstances of EU Member States and looks for synergies with other policies impacting the forest sector, such as rural, industrial, energy, and biodiversity policies.
Commenting on the letter, Irene di Padua, Policy Director at Bioenergy Europe highlights that the current discussion around sustainable forest management and bioenergy “is emotionally driven and does not reflect the reality in the forests or in the scientific literature.”
If we want to achieve the EU’s climate goals, we must find workable and applicable regulations and guidelines that take into consideration the multifunctionality of forests, Irene di Padua said.
In a statement US-based Enviva Inc., the world’s leading producer of sustainably sourced wood biomass, says that it “applauds 550 global scientists for their letter highlighting the important role that woody biomass from sustainably managed forests can play in climate change mitigation, delivering a fossil fuel-free energy future, and maintaining healthy forests.”
This includes sustainably sourced woody biomass from healthy forests in the US Southeast Enviva notes adding that the “views of these highly respected scientists align with Enviva’s mission and approach to fighting climate change, and we appreciate their public stance.”
Importantly, as the EU progresses its discussions on the RED, Enviva believes “these expert perspectives, based on science and deep expertise in forest management and ecology, will help inform the policy debate surrounding the use of woody biomass in meeting the EU’s climate targets.”
The company says that it “remains committed to responsible forest stewardship and supplying sustainably sourced wood bioenergy, providing our customers the opportunity to reduce their lifecycle carbon emissions and address climate commitments.”