On the road to a deforested planet
As a substitute for concrete in building construction, for plastic in packaging and for coal and gas in heating: wood is considered a panacea for more sustainability in many areas. In a new study, WWF Germany and the University of Kassel put an end to this myth and show that there is already not enough wood to sustainably meet demand, neither in Germany nor worldwide. The WWF calls on politicians to reduce wood consumption and not to automatically consider wood as sustainable, especially with regard to its use for energy.
This is because the amount of wood harvested worldwide (4.3 to 5 billion cubic metres in 2020) is higher than what can be taken from the forests in a sustainable way without endangering forest biodiversity (3 to 4.2 billion cubic metres). Thus up to 2 billion cubic metres of wood per year are taken too much from the forests. This corresponds to about half of all forest trees in Germany. The demand for wood is constantly increasing, especially for packaging, the construction industry, bioplastics and bioenergy. The hunger for wood is particularly high in Germany: we consume about 1.2 cubic metres of wood per capita (without bark[i]). That is more than twice as much as the global average (about 0.5 cubic metres). The study is based on analyses of satellite images, trade flows and national to global consumption and forest statistics.
"Especially the energetic use of wood, i.e. for heating and energy production, leaves a massive whole in forest stands," says Dr. Susanne Winter, Forest Programme Manager at WWF. She calls on the EU Commission to not classify the use of wood for energy as sustainable in the EU taxonomy, so as not to make this environmentally harmful practice even more attractive for the financial markets. According to the study, there is simply too little wood to satisfy the world's hunger for energy. Almost all the world's forests would have to be cut down to meet the global energy demand for a single year. From the second year onwards, we would then already have to do without wood to the greatest possible extent, as there would hardly be any usable forests left. Dr. Winter comments: "It is a vicious circle that further destroys the irreplaceable forests. At the moment, industry is using the forest as if there were no tomorrow. If we want to stop the climate crisis and species extinction, we need a turn around in the way we treat our forests now."
"The forest is not a timber factory, it is our livelihood. The study shows how urgently we need a discussion in politics and society about how to use wood in a sensible way. Harmful subsidies for the energetic use of wood, such as the Renewable Energy Act, need to be reconsidered," Winter said. To converge wood consumption to wood supply, the WWF calls for it to be used in a circular and cascading manner. Instead of burning it directly in a power plant or chimney, it would then first be used for long-lasting purposes, for example as a substitute for the "climate killer" concrete in the construction industry. Winter demands: "Therefore the German government must set the legal framework for more recycling management. To support this, investments in the development of infrastructure, to build up know-how and to raise awareness for high-quality recycling as well as for the further material use of wood waste are necessary."
Dr. Meghan Beck-O'Brien from the Center for Environmental Systems Research at the University of Kassel says: "Wood can be the raw material of the future. But in order not to overuse it, we need to end the waste that we do through our business models, incentive systems and social norms. More than ever, this study gives us a reason to look at our lifestyles, the state of forests and climate change in a mutually influencing context." To this end, the study proposes systemic monitoring. It establishes a connection between the condition of forests and how, how much and which wood is consumed. Beck-O'Brien says: "Quantity makes the difference, also in our wood consumption. The gap between wood supply and demand continues to grow simply because of population growth. We need to be careful that our insatiable demand for 'sustainable' wood products doesn't lead to even more serious over-exploitation of forests, because that comes with major social and environmental risks."
Further informationon and the study can be found here: wwf.de/alles-aus-holz
Dr.-Ing. Meghan Beck-O'Brien
University of Kassel
Centre for Environmental Systems Research (CESR)
WWF-Germany, Press Office
Phone: 030 3 11 77 74 28
Mobile: 0151 188 54 833