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Forests & Energy

7. Conclusions

    Soaring energy consumption, high fossil-fuel prices, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and concerns over energy import dependence are prompting global changes in the sources from which energy is expected to be derived in the coming years. Although fossil fuels are expected to account for most of the increase in energy supply, alternative forms of energy will also play a growing role in global energy supply.

    Energy consumption is projected to increase at the highest rates in Asia.

    Bioenergy, including wood energy, account for a large proportion of the current energy supply from renewable sources. In many of the world’s developing countries, fuelwood and charcoal (traditional bioenergy) remain the primary source of energy. In industrialized countries and particularly countries with large wood processing industries, wood energy is used for both domestic and industrial purposes. This form of energy can only be considered renewable if produced sustainably and if biomass growth exceeds harvest. Its net benefit in terms of climate change mitigation depends on the balance between CO2 captured during plant growth and CO2 released when producing, processing, transporting and using the fuel.

    Overall, the global consumption of wood as a source of energy is increasing, largely reflecting an increasing domestic consumption in African and South American countries due to population growth.

    Wood energy is among the most efficient sources of bioenergy in terms of quantity of energy released by unit of carbon emitted. When produced with efficient technology such as combined heat and power technology, it is often already competitive with fossil energy.

    Most current liquid biofuels are produced mainly from food crops and have low economic and environmental benefits. However, it is expected that technology will be available in the next decade for the production of second-generation liquid biofuels from wood and other cellulosic feedstocks that will be commercially competitive and generate dramatically less greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels. In addition, such liquid biofuels from wood material rather than from food crops would reduce competition with food production.

    At present, wood energy is most competitive when produced as a by-product of the wood processing industry, and wood residues have the greatest immediate potential for bioenergy generation given their availability, relatively low-value and the proximity of production to existing forestry operations. Another source of wood energy is forest plantations, which are established solely for the purpose of energy production and are becoming increasingly common in some countries.

    With increasing demands on land from first-generation liquid biofuel development, pressure on forests is likely to increase around the world and could lead to forest clearance, which results in the loss of the CO2 that was stocked in the forest. Therefore, the expansion of biofuel production will need to be accompanied by clear and well enforced land-use regulations. Also, it is imperative that bioenergy strategies are closely linked with, and integrated in, agriculture, forestry, poverty reduction and rural development strategies.

    Future demand for bioenergy will depend largely on policy measures. The extent to which wood energy will contribute to future energy production is likely to depend on:

    • the ability of wood energy to meet the objectives of recent energy policies;
    • the socioeconomic and environmental costs and benefits of wood energy production; and
    • the policies and institutions that determine forestry practices.

    As far as climate change and energy security are concerned, it will be very important to ensure that developing countries also have access to advanced wood energy technologies. More...

    List of potential benefits and negative effects of bioenergy development

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