Increasing demands are being placed on forests worldwide as competition between traditional wood-use sectors and bio-energy heats up, NGOs and industry warn.
The capability of European forests to meet both growing demand from biofuels and the more traditional uses of wood such as timber, pulp and paper came under scrutiny at a workshop organised by the United Nations and forest-based industry organisations on 11-12 January in Geneva.
Over one hundred particpants in the workshop noted with satisfaction that, despite increasing demand for wood, forest growth in Europe still far exceeds the volume of wood harvested. The increase in forest volume offers more habitats for biodiversity, a wide array of timber and offers employment opportunities, the participants agreed.
However, they warned that the intensified use of forests may have some unwanted side-effects:
- Forests help to protect soil from erosion, and play an important role in the water cycle and in water quality. However, intensive logging may impair these functions;
- more intensively used forests may pose a problem for biological diversity. Tree species composition may be less varied, as choices concentrate on fast-growing species, leading to a reduction of genetic diversity;
- increased demand may mean that the growth of food and the provision of other non-wood goods and services on lands will be less attractive, and;
- increased extraction of trees may lead to a risk of nutrient imbalance.
In order to use wood resources sustainably in the future, the workshop recommended that governments, in cooperation with stakeholders, introduce comprehensive policies for the forest sector, rural development and energy while at the same time ensuring co-ordination of these policies with other sectors.