UN calls for more sustainable management of forests

Issuing a warning about the impact of human activity such as the use of woodfuel on the world’s forests, the United Nations (UN) Department for Economic and Social Affairs and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have called for better wood-energy conversion technologies and more sustainable management of the world’s forests.

“This is an area where we can make a real difference,” said Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. “Sustainably managed forests are productive and resilient ecosystems, providing people with livelihoods and renewable energy, along with timber, food, shelter, clean air, water and climate benefits.”

However, the UN data also shows that current fuel production practices, including the production of charcoal, is estimated to cause up to seven per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In a recent report launched to coincide with the International Day of Forests, entitled the Charcoal Transition, the FAO revealed that most of these emissions are largely caused by unsustainable forest management and the inefficient manufacture of charcoal.

According to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, this data is particularly relevant to poor people in rural areas of developing countries where is can be the only energy source available, but conversion to charcoal is often achieved using rudimentary methods.

The UN estimates suggest that around one-third of the world’s population still rely on these traditional methods, with many small businesses using fuelwood and charcoal as their main energy carriers for other purposes including baking and brickmaking.

Around 17 per cent of the wood used for fuel around the world is ultimately converted to charcoal, with emission of greenhouse gases found to be as high as nine kilograms of carbon dioxide-equivalent per kilogram of charcoal produced.

“Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [and it is] fundamental for addressing the impacts of climate change and eliminating extreme poverty and hunger,” explained the head of the FAO.

Referring to the UN agency’s programmes to distribute fuel-efficient stoves to poorer areas, particularly in Latin America and Africa, Mr Graziano da Silva added: “We need, for instance, to adopt improved technologies for energy conversion.”

The agency concluded that applying such sustainable forest management practices could be the key to mitigating climate change, along with the reduction of charcoal waste through the transformation of charcoal dust into briquettes, adding a new iteration to the energy cycle.

James Barrett, spokesman for GWD Forestry, said sustainably managed forests are crucial for the future. “We can see how they help provide people with their livelihoods and renewable energy. Recent research suggests growing appetite for investment in the natural world, particularly sustainable forestry.”

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