Debate in Brussels on cascading use of wood
On 21 February MEP Christofer Fjellner (EPP, SE) hosted a breakfast debate in the European Parliament on the cascading use of woody biomass. The event gathered approximately 70 participants from the EU institutions, science and stakeholders around Europe. The event was organised by the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF).

The cascading use of woody biomass, a topic that has kept representatives of forest owners busy during the last years, is again on the table as the European Commission is planning to publish a guidance on the cascading use of wood with examples not only from the forest industry but also from forestry. In his opening remarks, Member of the European Parliament, Mr Christofer Fjellner looked back at the debates during the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) Directive and stressed that policy-makers should not be put in the situation where they have to decide what is the most valuable use of wood in the future. These decisions should be done based on market demand and supply and local circumstances. Moreover, Mr Fjellner informed about the negative consequences of a Swedish law on the cascading use of wood, which was withdrawn because the principle could not be translated in well-functioning practice.

Mr Peter Handley, from the European Commission, informed the participants about the background and purpose of the up-coming guidance to be launched during the second half of 2018. The mandate for the guidance lies in the Circular Economy Action Plan and the aim of this document is to facilitate implementation of different EU legislations, not only on waste but also on climate and energy, including the recently agreed Regulation on Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) and the updated Directive on Promotion of Energy from Renewable Resources (REDII). Moreover, the guidance aims at supporting the ongoing update of the EU Bioeconomy Strategy and the further development of the EU Plastic Strategy presented by the Commission at the beginning of the year. The guidance will be focused on woody biomass, will follow a value chain approach (from forest to wood end use) and will gather best practices taking into account recent innovations. In his speech, Mr Handley highlighted the non-binding nature of the document and addressed the worries that cascading use of wood would be embedded into a legislative proposal. He informed that stakeholders will be consulted in the preparation of this guidance and a stakeholder event will be organised by the Commission on 13 April.

Forest owners’ representative, Mr Gustav Tibblin from Södra, expressed his relieve to hear that there is no intention to legislate the cascading use of wood and provided arguments to support these views. Mr Tibblin reminded the participants that different parts of one tree is used for different purposes. An average Swedish forest owner receives 70 EUR/m3 for the high-quality timber from the tree and 35 EUR/m3 for the pulp wood, whereas the tops and branches and low quality wood is sold to bioenergy for 5 EUR/m3. It became clear that due to these differences in price of different wood qualities, bioenergy is not competing with other uses and should be seen as a complementary product.

A scientific view on the topic was provided by Ms Laura Sokka from VTT Research Centre of Finland. Ms Sokka presented different definitions on the cascading use of wood and noted that there is no commonly agreed definition. In addition, Ms Sokka talked about a few case studies showcasing wood flows in Finland and the Netherlands. In the latter case, imports play a much bigger role than wood flows from raw material production. Ms Sokka concluded that the cascading use is a good principle for supporting circular economy and more efficient biomass use but the geographical boundaries of the assessment greatly impact its results.

Ms Silvia Melegari from the European Sawmill Industry explained that wood removed from sustainable managed forests can contribute to tackle climate change in line with the Paris agreement and is processed extremely efficiently by sawmills leaving almost no waste. Sawmills are a zero-waste industry. Furthermore, she reminded that wood availability is not only theoretical but depends on many factors on the ground (economic and environmental) and addressed the importance of keeping the non-binding nature of the upcoming guidance.

Ms Fanny-Pomme Langue from CEPF noted that while the cascading use principle may be a valuable concept for the forest industry to increase its resource efficiency, it is important to hear the Commission confirming that there is no plan to regulate the cascading use of wood. However, she questioned how this approach fits with the recent attempt by the European Parliament to embed the cascading use of wood into the new Renewable Energy Directive by conditioning bioenergy support schemes to non-competition of uses. This approach would hinder competition and innovation of the forest sector. Ms Langue concluded that this event has shown the complexity of the issue of cascading use and that the coming debate should take this complexity into account and identify pragmatic solutions.