By 2050, rising population and demand, as well as an increase in use of wood for bioenergy, could triple the amount of wood society takes from forests and plantations per year, according to the latest instalment of WWF’s Living Forests Report.
The report, presented this week at the international paper conference Paperworld in Frankfurt, projects paper production and consumption may double in the next three decades, and overall wood consumption may triple.
“A scenario of tripling the amount of wood society takes from forests and plantations needs to motivate good stewardship that safeguards forests – otherwise we could destroy the very places where wood grows,” says Rod Taylor, Director of WWF’s Global Forest Programme. “Wood, if sourced from well managed forests or plantations, is a renewable material with many advantages over non-renewable alternatives. The key challenge for forest-based industries is how to supply more wood products with less impact on nature. This challenge spans the whole supply chain, from where and how wood is grown and harvested to how wisely and efficiently it is processed, used and reused.”
WWF’s forest conservation target is zero net deforestation and forest degradation by 2020, which means no overall loss of forest area or forest quality. The target requires the loss of natural forests to be reduced to near zero, down from the current 13 million hectares a year, and held at that level indefinitely.
“WWF’s research suggests that it is possible to achieve zero net deforestation and forest degradation while sustaining a vibrant wood products industry that meets people’s needs,” says Emmanuelle Neyroumande, Manager of WWF International´s global pulp and paper work. “But the longer we delay our actions the more difficult and costly the solutions will be. We need wiser consumption, more efficiency, responsible forestry practices, good governance and more transparency.”
For paper in particular, the Living Forests Report outlines a variety of solutions:
More recycling in countries with low recovery rates: Even with higher global paper consumption in the future, society would need less virgin material than today if recycling rates increased. A 2020 scenario shows that an increase of paper production by 25 per cent could still require less virgin fibre input if the current global level of 53 per cent recycled fibre use is increased to 70 per cent. Paper recovery rates vary greatly between countries. Therefore, efforts to increase recycling in countries with low recovery rates and high consumption growth have particular potential to reduce pressure on natural forests.
Resource efficiency and fairer consumption patterns: More efficient processing and manufacturing can help produce more products with a given amount of wood. Also, the current consumption patterns of rich nations (10 per cent of the world’s population consuming 50 per cent of the world’s paper) cannot sustainably be followed by developing countries. Richer nations can reduce wasteful paper use, while poorer nations need more paper for education, hygiene and food safety.
Plantations to reduce pressure on natural forests: Even with more frugal use and greater recycling and efficiency, net demand for wood is likely to grow. Maintaining near zero loss of natural forests after 2020, without significant reductions in consumption, would require up to 250 million hectares of new tree plantations by 2050, which is nearly double the amount of plantations today. Therefore, well-managed plantations, particularly on currently degraded land, contributing to restore ecosystems, will play an increasingly important role.
Well-managed forests: Growing demand will also certainly push production further into natural forests. The report indicates that by 2050 up to 25 per cent more forests might be commercially harvested than today. Forest certification will continue to be an important tool to improve forest management practices via a market driven mechanism.
The energy challenge: By 2050, annual wood demand for energy could reach 6-8 billion m3, which would require more than twice the wood removed for all uses today. This clearly poses a challenge for sustainable land-use planning. WWF sees an important role for bioenergy to provide diverse alternatives to fossil fuels, plus new incomes and increased energy security for rural communities. However, for these benefits to be realized, its use must be carefully planned, implemented and monitored for environmental and social sustainability. Badly managed bioenergy production can destroy valuable ecosystems, undermine food and water security, harm rural communities and prolong wasteful energy consumption.
Humanity will likely use more wood in more ways in the coming decades. Given the massive projected increase in wood and paper demand, forest-based industries are key to conserving forests. For wood to play a positive role in a “green” economy based on renewable resources, production forests need to be managed to the highest ecological and social standards, and the use and recovery of wood products must become more efficient.