Bioenergy has to be part of the solution, not part of the problem

(Blog, Liisa Rohweder, 25 ​September 2014) The Forests Dialogue’s Food, Fuel, Fiber & Forests (4Fs) was organized for the first time in Finland. It gathered about 50 participants from South, East, North and West. WWF Finland and UPM were among organizers. As the topic of dialogue was 4Fs and it was held here in Finland, the fuel part, bioenergy, was naturally one of our main topics.

My role in the dialogue was to raise up the planetary limits and the challenges we have in sustaining biodiversity. Demand on natural resources has doubled since 1966 and we are now using natural resources as if we had of 1.5 planets. We in Finland and other high income countries cannot be proud: ecological footprint in high income countries is five times bigger than that in low-income countries. We in high income countries cannot continue the over consumption whereas low income countries have the right to increase their wellbeing.

The Forests Dialogue group visited the Linnasaari National Park at the lake of Saimaa (photo by Liisa Rohweder)

The overuse of natural resources has caused the decrease in biodiversity which has declined globally by around 30 percent between 1970 and now; and by 60 percent in the tropics. The huge decrease in the tropics means that the high income countries, including Finland, have outsourced the biodiversity loss to tropics by using more and more natural resources from there.

Right now things look so worrying that it might be difficult to feel positive about the future. I myself feel that it is challenging, but not impossible. We who have caused the problem can also find the solution – if only we are willing to search and implement them. For the change to happen, strong leadership is needed, especially in the private sector. Sitting on the bench waiting for someone else to make the first move doesn’t work.

Renewable energy is a part of the solution, since the single largest component of the ecological footprint is the carbon footprint. For the sustainable future, WWF vision is that by 2050 all energy is produced by renewables. To achieve that, energy efficiency should be the primary fuel for everything. After energy efficiency, the priority is in the renewables that utilize natural flows without depleting them, such as wind and solar power. Also, sustainable bioenergy plays an important role.

As, on the one hand, using renewables is a part of the solution, on the other hand, using them is not a self-evident proof of sustainable future. Since bioenergy plays an important role in the global energy mix now and in the upcoming decades, it is uttermost important to ensure its sustainability. Unsustainable bioenergy can cause emissions rather than reduce them. Also, unsustainable bioenergy is a risk to biodiversity. In addition, we need to remember that biomass is not an unlimited source of energy.

I am optimistic that sustainable renewable energy sources including sustainable bioenergy are part of the solution when decreasing our ecological footprint. We in WWF call for open and continuous dialog in these questions to ensure that we leave a healthy and viable planet for the next generations.

The Finnish forest management practices were introduced to The Forests Dialogue group early September (photo by Liisa Rohweder)

The original blog post has been published on UPM Blog and can be commented there.