The use of wood energy can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and can contribute to poverty reduction, FAO said today. But the agency warned that the use of wood for fuel can result in deforestation or forest degradation if sustainable forest management is not effectively practiced.

Wood is the most important biofuel, mainly in developing countries. Today half of the annual harvest of roundwood is used for energy noted a paper presented at a special event of FAO's governing body, the FAO Conference, on the subject of forests and energy. More than two billion people depend on wood for their daily energy demand, mainly for cooking, heating and small industrial production.

In sub-Saharan Africa, fuelwood and charcoal supply over 70 percent of the national energy demand High oil prices, the need for secure energy supplies and concerns over climate change have led to a new interest in bioenergy. This renewed interest could affect forests because forests occupy land which could be used for crops producing liquid biofuels.

Furthermore, forests and forest residues could become more important for the direct conversion to liquid biofuels. Some experts predict that wood will become the major source of biofuels in the future, replacing agricultural crops and residues. The increase in energy consumption driven by demographic and economic factors and the rapidly changing global energy situation generate both opportunities and threats for forests, FAO said.

The production of energy from existing forests and from forest plantations is expected to increase. At the same time, unsustainable harvesting and use of wood fuels could increase. As the demand for wood energy rises, the supply of wood available for other uses might decline, resulting in higher prices for all users of wood. Land previously dedicated to food crops might shift to biofuel crops. This could benefit farmers’ incomes, but might have a negative impact on local food production. Agro-fuel crops might expand into forests, generating land use conflicts and increasing deforestation, with implications for biological diversity, climate change and water.

“Despite the apparent benefits of biofuels, caution should be exercised when planning and implementing large-scale liquid bio-fuel projects,” said Wulf Killmann, Director of FAO's Forest Products and Industries Division. “Governments should ensure that there are no serious negative impacts on the environment and society.”

FAO called upon countries to develop their wood energy sectors in line with sustainable forest management concepts. Wood energy policies should be incorporated into poverty reduction strategies. Know-how and capacity building in the use of sustainable, efficient and healthy wood energy systems should be transferred. Undue market distortions should be avoided. Safeguards for the production of liquid biofuels should be introduced to avoid unwanted negative impacts on the environment and local population.


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