What Role Should FSC Play with Respect to Bio-energy?

Should FSC engage in the global debate on the use of bio-energy? Participants in the side-event on ‘FSC and Carbon Footprints of bio-energy and other forest products’ tried to answer this question, and their reactions were unanimous.

Bio-energy is ‘renewable’ energy made from biological sources, including wood and wood waste. Over the coming years, its use is expected to grow by 150 per cent, while the global demand for forest products will also increase substantially as population grows and tackling climate change becomes crucial.

Wood products are expected to replace non-renewable materials – plastic, for example – while wood biofuels will replace fossil-based energy.

In Europe, some – forest owners, for instance see this as an opportunity for their business, but others have concerns over the use of biofuels.

What are the risks of increased bio-energy use?

Susie Russell, Vice-President at North Coast Environment Council in Australia, quoted a US study in which biofuels led to more air pollution locally and biomass plants increased carbon dioxide by 50 per cent: “We need to recognize that changing from coal to wood energy is not changing the current problems around pollution and carbon dioxide”.

A representative of the Confederation of European Paper Industries added that there are also economic issues, as bio-energy is taking more resources from other products. Paper mills will end up in competition with biomass mills, for instance. Many stakeholders fear that growth in bio-energy will lead to increased deforestation and forest degradation.

What is the current link between FSC and bio-energy?

Currently, FSC is only linked with the use of bio-energy via its carbon storage and sequestration in ecosystem services. The climate benefits related to FSC forest management certification avoid degradation and deforestation, and ecosystems are renewed.

John Hontelez, FSC Chief Advocacy Officer, suggested that FSC could set two conditions before promoting the use of bio-energy: first bio-energy would need to achieve real climate benefits, and secondly users would need to prevent negative environmental and social impacts – for instance, by using only wood residues and waste.

Recently, FSC has developed a carbon monitoring tool that will be available online soon – as Chris Henschel, FSC Ecosystems Services Programme Manager, explained. To consider FSC’s role around bio-energy more in detail, a consultation was launched on ‘the carbon footprint procedure’ in December 2016, which revealed various challenges and concerns.

“Where forest products go is irrelevant, the most relevant is where they come from”

Janne Näräkkä, FSC Certification Manager at Finnish Forest Industries, considered that FSC should not start classifying or promoting different products based on carbon arguments, but rather focus on the positive climate role that FSC-certified forests and wood products play, as the key issue in the bio-energy debate is to find materials from sustainable sources. He also felt that FSC could only get more engaged around bio-energy by adding a fourth component to its economic, environmental, and social aspects, i.e. climate. This would “require big decisions in FSC and members would have to be included in the debate”.

Barbara Bramble, FSC International Board Member, reminded the audience that Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) – member alongside FSC of the ISEAL Alliance – already works on biofuels and requires FSC certification for forest materials: “We should be referring to RSB. The real role of FSC in climate change is sustainable forest management”. She recommended that governments pledge to promote FSC certification and biofuels made from FSC-certified sources to help them fulfil their climate commitments.

Carsten Huljus, CEO of the Sustainable Biomass Program, also considered that FSC should focus on sustainable forest management, rather than discuss the best use of forest products, as it was difficult to see the beginning and the end of this debate.

One certificate holder and member of the economic North chamber shared this thought: “Where forest products go is irrelevant, the most relevant is where they come from”.

John Hontelez concluded that participants all seemed to agree that the best way for FSC to work on biofuels was to stick to its role in safeguarding sustainable forest management, and that therefore, “We [FSC] have to be bio-energy neutral”.