Sustainable Wood-Based Energy

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Bioenergy from wood biomass can be important for taming dangerous climate change, but the rapidly evolving forest sector should ensure that wood-based bioenergy production entails both environmental and socio-economic solutions. Such production can stimulate both climate change mitigation, adaptation, and rural development.

Julia Szulecka, SusValueWaste’s postdoc based at TIK (UiO), has recently published her work on sustainable wood-based energy. She has evaluated strategies for mainstreaming sustainability in the bioenergy sector.

My work looks at wood-based energy from a macro perspective. It is organized around three core questions about integrating sustainability in the bioenergy sector: the Why?, What?, and How?”, says Szulecka.

She argues there are two strategies for integrating sustainability in wood bioenergy production. The first one is a top-down approach that draws on global forestry governance instruments. It emphasizes the role of international and global governance tools, such as agreements, certification schemes, and standards dedicated to wood fuels. The second strategy is a bottom-up approach that builds on examples of already existing sustainable modes of production. These can be generalized as best-practices in forest plantations for bioenergy purposes, sensitive to local specificities, unlike the more “one-size-fits-all” top-down governance mode.

To illustrate this bottom-up approach and highlight how sustainability is achieved in the actual practice of forest plantations for energy needs, she has used a case study from rural Paraguay. It is interesting, because global forest governance instruments, such as certification schemes, do not extend to such localities. Furthermore, it is an example of out-grower scheme contracts that have a potential to enhance sustainability in all dimensions (social, economic and environmental).

Sustainability issues should be taken more seriously. Policymakers, NGOS and development agencies alike should unpack the general idea of “sustainability” in this sector, and use measures that are more comprehensive.

Szulecka proposes a framework illustrating how sustainability is treated in wood bioenergy and calls for both criteria/indicators and assessment frameworks (useful for project evaluation) which are on the third (Two Pillar) or fourth (Holistic) level. It directs attention to the out-grower scheme model that might be an attractive production system for wood energy production and sustainability standard implementation. It further calls for more research dedicated to sustainability issues (both technical and statistical, including comparative analysis, as well as normative and ethical) and the need to build bridges between the methodologies (like Life Cycle Assessments with social factors).

Read her full article Towards Sustainable Wood-Based Energy: Evaluation and Strategies for Mainstreaming Sustainability in the Sector published in the peer reviewed journal Sustainability.

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