The 2017 International Day of Forests on 21 March is focussing on the theme of forests and energy. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations is using the day to highlight how greening wood energy is key to mitigate climate change and improve rural livelihoods. See video.

Unsustainable charcoal production is a significant driver of climate change. Up to seven per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans come from the production and use of fuelwood and charcoal. This happens largely due to unsustainable forest management and inefficient charcoal manufacture and fuelwood combustion, according to a new UN FAO report published to coincide with the International Day of Forests.

More than 2.4 billion people - about one-third of the world's population - still rely on the traditional use of woodfuel for cooking, and many small enterprises use fuelwood and charcoal as the main energy carriers for various purposes such as baking, tea processing and brickmaking. Of all the wood used as fuel worldwide, about 17 per cent is converted to charcoal, according to the report.
When charcoal is produced, using inefficient technologies and unsustainable resources, the emission of greenhouse gas can be as high as 9 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per 1 kg charcoal produced.

The report highlights that in the absence of realistic and renewable alternatives to charcoal in the near future, in particular, in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, greening the charcoal value chain and applying sustainable forest management practices are essential for mitigating climate change while maintaining the access of households to renewable energy.

Speaking at the International Day of Forests ceremony in Rome, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva warned that much of the current production of wood fuel is unsustainable, contributing significantly to the degradation of forests and soils and the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

"We need, for instance, to adopt improved technologies for energy conversion," said da Silva.

FAO is participating in several programmes to deliver fuel-efficient stoves, especially for poor people in Latin America and Africa. And in South Sudan, FAO and partners have already distributed more than 30,000 improved stoves.

President of Fiji Jioji Konousi Konrote added: "We need to turn our attention to scaling up the transfer of renewable energy technologies, particularly for forest biomass in order to ensure that developing countries are making use of these technologies and keep pace with growing energy demands in a sustainable manner. Only then can developing countries reduce the use of fossil fuel and do their part in contributing to a better cleaner environment by reducing their levels of carbon emissions."

Creating an enabling environment for change
The report calls on national governments to create an enabling political environment and an attractive investment climate for transition to a greener charcoal sector.

In addition, improved forest law enforcement and governance can help increase government revenue collection and investments in sustainable forest management and efficient wood conversion technologies.

The report suggests that African countries could potentially reinvest $1.5 billion-$3.9 billion in greening the charcoal value chain from annual revenues they currently forgo because the market is poorly regulated.

Photo (c) FAO/ Horst Wagner / FAO