Mobilising more wood13 October 2007
European Panel Federation secretary-general Kris Wijnendaele says the timber sector needs to influence the top decision makers
Wood is an extraordinary material: naturally renewable, it grows in ever-increasing abundance in Europe. It is light, strong and energy efficient to build with; beautiful, warm and welcoming to live with. Furthermore, it offers a simple way to reduce the CO2 emissions that are the main cause of climate change, through:
- the carbon sink effect of the growing forests;
- the carbon storage effect of wood-based products;
- substitution for carbon-intensive materials.
It has been estimated that an annual 4% increase to 2010 in Europe’s consumption of wood products would sequester an additional 150 million tonnes of CO2 per year. With these excellent environmental credentials, the prospects for the wood and panel industries are fantastic, I hear the reader thinking. Well, they surely should be, particularly for the latter, the champion in prolonging carbon storage by recycling co-products and by-products from wood processing as well as using clean recycled wood. However, there is uncertainty in our sector as to whether these good prospects will become reality.
The fact is the panel industry is suffering from exceptionally sharp cost increases, in particular for wood raw material. According to European Panel Federation (EPF) statistics, wood prices soared by 21% on average in 2006 throughout Europe, continuing the trend that appeared in 2005. This year they’ve gone up again. Prices rises stem from the tight competition for wood with the bioenergy sector. This is due to the increased popularity and support from governments for burning wood to generate so-called “green energy”. Wood costs have consequently embarked on a long-term increase. In some markets the wood price is now even linked to its energy content.
The EPF’s response to the current market situation is a range of actions to explain that using wood as a renewable raw material is even better for the environment than diverting it to the energy sector. But we don’t want to be seen as being against this renewable energy wave and tilting at windmills. Instead we’ve decided to focus on building a positive information wave about wood products as a counterbalance.
First, we have built a support network, ranging from national wood promotion organisations (such as wood for good) and the European Confederation of Woodworking Industries (CEI-BOIS) to the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW). Thanks to this wide coalition of support, the “wood wave” has achieved major successes under its new marketing initiative “Tackle Climate Change: Use Wood”:
Our activities have included an exhibition at the European Parliament in Brussels in 2006. This presented MEPs with the excellent environmental credentials of wood and wood-based panel products, and showed the vital contribution of the woodworking industries to employment and “value creation” to society. It also demonstrated that wood products are both attractive and meet the demands of contemporary lifestyles.
The Tackle Climate Change: Use Wood handbook was also launched at this exhibition. It provides a definitive source of reference on issues related to the European woodworking industries and its products, with particular focus on the positive role they play in reducing climate change. The publication has been very successful and has already been reprinted twice and translated into French, German, Italian, Swedish and Russian, with other languages in preparation.
It is clear that the image of the woodworking industries has improved with the EU Parliament. And, more importantly, from the results of recent discussions and votes on several items in the Parliament and Council, among others in relation to biomass energy, we can see that they also have more understanding and are taking the concerns of the industry into account.
Furthermore, the High Level Group on Competitive-ness, Energy and Environment, an advisory body to EU Commissioner Günter Verheugen, calls in its fourth report for the “optimal use of resources with respect to adding value”. At the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, ministers will also sign a declaration on forests, wood and energy in which they will call, among other things, for “mobilising” more timber.
These developments show that providing Europe’s top decision makers with more and better information results in them acknowledging the concerns of woodworking and panel industries. To build on this we need to co-ordinate European action with complementary links with decision makers at national and regional level.
As French MEP Catherine Gui-Quint said: “The future belongs to wood and to those who use it.”