Bioenergy and Forests

This editorial is part of Forest Cover issue nº47. If you want to read or download the rest of the articles please go to

By Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch, USA

Board member of the Global Forest Coalition

Forests continue to be caught in the climate crosshairs. On the one hand, REDD and forest offsets are promoted as ‘protecting carbon sinks’, with the potential to create profits for carbon market players. On the other hand, subsidies and targets for renewable energy continue to promote the cutting, burning, refining, converting to plantations, and genetic engineering of forests, under the false pretense of providing ‘solutions’ to climate change.

Many large ‘green’ organisations and others continue to call for ‘100% renewable energy’ as the primary centerpiece of their demands of policymakers. Yet in both Europe and the United States about 50% of this much-touted renewable energy production is from bioenergy. That includes burning trees (and increasingly, municipal waste) for electricity, and growing and refining industrial crops for liquid biofuels. The remaining 50% of renewable energy production is primarily from large hydroelectric dams. The contribution from wind and solar, while it is inevitably featured in imagery and hyped as ‘rapidly expanding’, is still minimal.

Burning wood for electricity, especially co-firing in coal plants, is one of the fastest growing forms of bioenergy. The UK is a case in point, importing more wood pellets than any other country. Last year 4.6 million metric tonnes of pellets were imported, which would have required 9.2 million metric tonnes of harvested wood to produce. To put this in perspective, the UK’s total annual domestic production of wood is 11 million metric tonnes, but little of that is used for bioenergy. Rather, the UK is almost entirely dependent on imports for this purpose.[1] Continue reading


Comments on FSC at Risk: Greenpeace Progress Report

This post is a reflection from one of GFC members on Greenpeace’s Progress Report on the Forest Stewardship Council which can be found here:
During the 20 years since the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) came into existence, Greenpeace has invested enormous amounts of time, energy and money into trying to make it work. However it now appears that Greenpeace may have reached a point where its allegiance to FSC is starting to wear thin. Recently published Greenpeace reports (see attached and below) indicate growing concern and criticism regarding FSC’s apparent lack of integrity, and poor performance:
“Unfortunately, as the system has expanded, FSC has not been successful in applying its system and standards consistently. Furthermore, many of the FSC’s on-the-ground performance criteria are either weak, under threat of being weakened, or not properly implemented.”
Timberwatch, and international groups including the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), the Global Forest Coalition (GFC), FERN, and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) consistently raised legitimate concerns about FSC’s most serious shortcomings, especially in respect of the perverse social and environmental effects that have resulted from FSC’s certification of industrial timber plantations in developing countries.
However it seems the FSC has stubbornly chosen to ignore good advice and suggestions for improvements in its policies and operations, and with some of its staff and certification bodies often being sympathetic to the timber industry, it simply continued to expand its indiscriminate certification of clear cut logging in forests, as well as the green-washing of environmentally destructive tree plantations as “responsibly managed forests”.
The big question right now, is whether, and for how much longer, Greenpeace will continue giving the FSC undeserved acclaim by remaining its most credible environmental member? Progressive environmental thinkers are beginning to ask if Greenpeace’s long-standing association with the FSC may actually have done much more harm than good, by helping to legitimise a scheme that was originally intended to protect forests, but now aims to promote excessive consumption of timber and wood-derived products like cellulose and paper, together with the associated pollution and waste that they generate?
In September 2004, many concerned NGOs including Timberwatch and GeaSphere from South Africa, attended an international meeting held in Bonn, Germany, convened by the FSC secretariat, to review FSC’s performance. Unfortunately things have not improved since then, so perhaps the time has come for another major rethink on the future of FSC?
Next year (in September 2015), the World Forestry Congress (WFC) will take place in Durban, South Africa, and it would be both timely and convenient to try to arrange another similar, but independent, meeting of concerned NGO stakeholders during the same period. Participants at this meeting could take  advantage of the opportunity to avoid duplicating travel expenses (and GHG emissions), as many of the key organisations involved (including Greenpeace) should already be there at that time.
Timberwatch is planning to help co-ordinate an alternative civil society event in parallel with the WFC, and would also be willing to help with logistical arrangements for a possible meeting to review the role and performance of the FSC.
Wally Menne
Tel: +27 (0) 82 4442083
Skype: wally.menne

FSC at Risk Progress report

Background – April 17, 2014

Greenpeace believes that, if all FSC supporters work together, we can resolve the shortcomings the system currently faces, and preserve the credibility and legitimacy of FSC.

Download the Progress Report.

Last updated: April 2014 – Progress First Quarter 2014

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the only forest certification system that has been internationally recognised by major environmental organisations and social movements. Organisations such as Greenpeace have helped to build, support, and indeed promote FSC, because the system offers assurances of responsible forest management from an ecological, social, and economic perspective. The FSC’s strong foundations, perceived credibility and legitimacy have given FSC-labelled products a competitive edge and an enhanced market value. As a result, the system has experienced dramatic growth and subsequent demand in the last decade.

Unfortunately, as the system has expanded, FSC has not been successful in applying its system and standards consistently. Furthermore, many of the FSC’s on-the-ground performance criteria are either weak, under threat of being weakened, or not properly implemented. We consider FSC to be in a serious situation and are deeply concerned over the rapidly eroding integrity and credibility of the system.

Greenpeace is committed to addressing the shortcomings within the FSC system and is seeking the support of others who share the vision of a strong and meaningful FSC. FSC is the only existing global system with the ability to have a real impact on the ground in the forests.

Download FSC at Risk: A joint 4-step action plan to strengthen and restore credibility

Download Appendix to “FSC at Risk”: Recommended action to strengthen FSC’s credibility

Download FSC at Risk: Finland Case Study

Industry Hype & Misdirected Science Undercuts Real Energy/Climate Solutions Genetically Engineering Poplars for Paper and Biofuels Condemned

(cross-posted) – Biofuelwatch, Center for Food Safety, Global Justice Ecology Project, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network


Washington, DC–Scientists and environmentalists today condemned a recent press release by researchers at the University of British Columbia announcing they have created genetically engineered (GE) poplar trees for paper and biofuel production, opening the prospect of growing these GE trees like an agricultural crop in the future. [1]

The poplars were genetically engineered for altered lignin composition to allegedly make them easier to process into paper and biofuels. Groups, however, warn that manipulation of lignin, and the potential contamination of wild poplars with the GE trait, could be extremely dangerous. [2]

Lignin is a key structural component of plant cell walls and a major component of soils. [3] It is also the product of millions of years of natural selection favoring sturdy, healthy and resilient plants. Contamination from GE poplars with altered lignin could have devastating effects on forests, ecosystems, human communities and biodiversity.

Poplars include at least 30 species, are widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere [4] and have a high potential for genetic dispersal. [5]

“Because poplar trees generate so much pollen and seed that can travel so far, poplars genetically engineered for paper or biofuels are likely to inevitably and irreversibly contaminate native forests,” stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.  “The only way to prevent this potential ecological disaster is to stop the release of GE trees.”

Martha Crouch, PhD, a plant biologist consulting for the Center for Food Safety is likewise concerned.  “The reports that genetic engineers have restructured poplar wood to make it easier to process into biofuels makes it sound as if this technology is right around the corner. However, no ecological studies have been done yet, and methods for keeping genes from escaping into forests are unproven and likely to fail. All of this hype distracts us from truly sustainable solutions that work safely with what nature has already provided,” she concluded.

Commercial and industrial scale biofuels and bioenergy are creating vast new demands for wood, and driving the conversion of climate stabilizing forests and other natural ecosystems to fuel crops.  Rainforests in Indonesia are being burned to make way for plantations of oil palm, for example. Genetically engineering trees to be easier to manufacture into bioenergy will further contribute to the problem by increasing economic pressure to convert land into GE tree plantations.

Rachel Smolker, PhD, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch adds, “The whole idea of engineering trees for biofuels is outrageous. There is no question that we must end our fossil fuel addiction, but pretending we can simply substitute living plants is horribly misguided. Even the tiny fraction of fuel currently produced from industrial bioenergy has had huge impacts on forests, water, human rights and food security. Forests purify water and regulate the climate.  They are home to most of the world’s biodiversity and many Indigenous Peoples. We need to protect and restore forests while drastically reducing overconsumption. Engineering trees is moving in exactly the wrong direction.”


Dr. Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch, +1.802.482.2848

Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project, +1.802.578.0477

Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, +1.202.547.9359

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, +1.613.809.1103

Notes to Editors:

[1] “Researchers design trees that make it easier to produce paper”

[2] Biofuelwatch,

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network,

Center for Food Safety,

Global Justice Ecology Project

[3] Lignin Biosynthesis:

[4] American Journal of Botany,

[5] “Transgene escape -Global atlas of uncontrolled spread of genetically engineered plants”

For More Information:

“Genetically Engineered Trees: The New Frontier of Biotechnology”Center for Food Safety,

“Genetically Engineered Trees and Bioenergy: A Growing Threat to Forests and Communities” – Global Justice Ecology Project

“Wood Bioenergy: Green Land Grabs For Dirty ‘Renewable’ Energy” – Biofuelwatch

21st March, the International Day of Mourning for Millions of Hectares of Destroyed and Stolen Forests

On 21st March, the International Day of Mourning for Millions of Hectares of Destroyed and Stolen Forests, we should weep in solidarity with the millions of displaced, dispossessed and now poverty stricken, formerly forest dependent local communities and indigenous peoples around the world.
In a message,  the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlights the value of the world’s remaining forests to nearly 1.6 billion people worldwide who “depend on forests for their livelihood, food, fuel, shelter and medicine”.

The value of forests for their climate change mitigation and adaptation services is acknowledged too, but nothing is said about the ongoing corporate driven land grabbing; and the complete destruction of forests through logging and land use change, that has occurred over the past 60 years at least.Praise is poured onto the timber and paper industries: “Round wood production, wood processing and the pulp and paper industries account for nearly 1 per cent of global gross domestic product”. But at what cost to forests, rivers and forest dependent people comes this mere “1 per cent”?

The UN Secretary-General emphasises “the importance of all types of forests and trees to our economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being” but fails to divulge that socially and environmentally destructive large-scale tree monocultures such as rubber plantations, pulpwood plantations and even genetically engineered poplar ‘fake forests’ are included in this glib generalisation.
The fact that the pulp and paper industry is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and therefore also a major contributor to global warming and climate change, does not get a mention.
Nor do the many devastating health impacts that negatively affect local communities and and pulp mill workers as a result of the polluted air and toxic effluent pumped out into the environment by pulp mills.
Also, the fact that forest and especially timber plantation work is rated as one of the most dangerous forms of employment by the ILO seems to have slipped Ban Ki-moon’s mind!
So when the message refers to “concrete action”, what does it really mean by “to protect and sustainably manage these vital ecosystems”?
Although there is not a single reference to REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), we can be sure that this must surely be the UN’s main plan of “concrete” action, as it pushes to commoditise forests everywhere into the ‘stock in trade’ of global offset and ecosystem services markets including for carbon, water, air, biodiversity and elite tourism!
And where this may not be possible, the FAO, the IMF and the World Bank will encourage governments to convert ‘degraded’ forests and grassland into fast-wood plantations that can supply biomass derived fuels to energy-addicted consumers and industries in the global North.
No doubt much of this energy will be used to produce concrete, but not as a form of action to save forests!
Wally Menne
Tel: +27 (0) 82 4442083
Skype: wally.menne

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests. Click here for the full text of the UN Resolution .

Morning hearing on 4 February between the OWG Co-Chairs and Major Groups and other stakeholders

(cross-posted from

On 4 February, the morning hearing between the OWG Co-Chairs and Major Groups and other stakeholders focused on “forests and biodiversity.”

The first panellist, Sabá Loftus, from the Global Environmental Outlook for Youth (GEO5 for Youth) and the Major Group for Children and Youth, highlighted the interlinkages between forests and biodiversity, noting that “you can’t have one without the other.” Shifting the focus, she said, “It is very clear to everyone in this room that business as usual is not really working, and deforestation and biodiversity loss are essentially economic issues.” This is linked to the ongoing desire for “unlimited economic growth” that is exerting a dangerous level of pressure on the environment, in tandem with population increase and unsustainable economic development.

Ms. Loftus noted that there are already many existing agreements on forests and biodiversity, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, which includes specific targets that could be easily incorporated into the SDGs. She added, “Goals, when we do have them, cannot be considered in isolation – they must be interlinked and consider the different thematic areas,” and the big challenge will be enforcement at the national and local level. Ms. Loftus further noted that youth are calling for data and monitoring gaps to be closed, as these gaps are limiting the ability of governments to divert unwanted outcomes and change trends. She also drew attention to the need to create financial incentives for Member States to achieve the SDGs, “because at the moment, how do you make trees that are standing more affordable than those that are cut down?”

Isis Álvarez from Global Forest Coalition, speaking on behalf of the Women’s Major Group, began by asserting: “The importance of diverse forests as well as other ecosystems to achieve global sustainable development cannot be over-emphasized and many benefits are still beyond human understanding. Thus, their diligent conservation must be central to any sustainable development planning and policy.” Turning her focus to the issue of gender and forests, Ms. Álvarez stated, “Women often cultivate lands that they do not own, and gather resources from forests to which they lack titles. Even where there are land tenure policies in place, some patriarchal cultures will not consider women’s land tenure rights. Historically, land reforms have tended to grant tenure rights to men ignoring gender aspects.”

The Women’s Major Group proposed a goal, entitled “Conservation of Ecosystems and Sustainable Use of Land and other Natural Resources,” accompanied by the following targets:

> Zero loss of forest cover (based on a definition of forests that excludes industrial tree and shrub plantations);
> Zero depletion of clean freshwater resources, full protection and ambitious restoration of healthy freshwater ecosystems. This requires both the protection and restoration of healthy ecosystems and ending over-extraction of water, especially for irrigation and water-intensive industries;
> Zero loss of other ecosystems, including grasslands, peatlands, savannah, tundra and alpine ecosystems;
> Restore or allow natural regeneration of 50 million hectares of degraded or destroyed ecosystems restored or allowed to naturally regenerate;
> Phase out all agricultural practices that cause soil erosion, depletion and compaction;
> Redirect or eliminate all potentially perverse incentives promoting unsustainable consumption and production patterns that might trigger biodiversity loss;
> Fully document and recognize the territorial rights and customary conservation practices of Indigenous peoples, women and local communities;
> Ensure that women and men participate equally in governance of forests and other natural resources; and
> Require the fulfilment of the right to free, prior and informed consent of all communities, including Indigenous peoples, for any projects and developments that may affect lands which they own, occupy or otherwise use.

Referring to a joint paper by the CBD Alliance and the Global Forest Coalition, Simone Lovera from Supervivencia/Friends of the Earth and speaking on behalf of the NGO Major Group, pointed out a few misconceptions within the TST Issue Briefs on Biodiversity and Forests. One is the myth that forest destruction is mainly confined to the tropics and that it is declining. Ms. Lovera noted that there is ongoing forest degradation, in developed countries as well, including the US, Canada, and increasingly in Europe. A main driver is the proliferation of wood-based bioenergy policies that require massive amounts of wood, including importing wood from precious wetland forests in the US to the UK.

Another misunderstanding is that plantations are forests; there is danger in using this concept in relation to the reduction of net forest loss, which basically means the loss of forest and biodiversity in one community could be compensated by restoring forest, or “afforestation,” in another community. Afforestation means planting in areas which have not naturally supported forests, and this practice leads to biodiversity loss. “You can’t compensate deforestation in one area by restoring in other areas because communities will still be affected,” Ms. Lovera warned.

She also pointed to the need to address the underlying causes of biodiversity destruction, in particular the industrial livestock industry. In addition, Ms. Lovera voiced concern over the term “sustainable forest management” as it often includes industrial tree plantations and even industrial logging.

Ms. Lovera drew attention to key recommendations, including:

> An integrated SDG on the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and natural resources;
> A separate SDG on sustainable consumption and production patterns – including reduction in consumption of paper, and the abolition of environmentally harmful subsidies;
> The ecosystems and natural resources SDG should include the following targets (among others): zero deforestation and forest degradation by 2030; full recognition of all Indigenous territories and marine and terrestrial areas conserved areas (ICCAs) that are legally recognized;
> Indicators should include gender-sensitive indicators, and indicators regarding the total area of Indigenous territories and community conserved areas (ICCAs) that are legally recognized; and
> Biodiversity and forest targets should also be integrated under other SDGs, as biodiversity is an essential life-support system for all human sectors.

Ms. Lovera further noted that members of the CBD Alliance strongly oppose a separate SDG on forests as they are an ecosystem, and should be recognized as such. “We also oppose any ‘net’ goals or targets for forests, land degradation or other ecosystems. The assumption that you would be able to compensate ecosystem or soil loss at one location with ecosystem or soil restoration in another location is deeply flawed from a moral, scientific, and social justice perspective,” their statement indicated.

John Hontelez, from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and speaking on behalf of the NGO Major Group, noted that forests continue to lose out against expansion of agriculture, palm oil, urbanization, and climate change, but also illegal logging and lack of responsible forest management. The importance of forests is increasing too, including the role they play in climate mitigation and adaptation, he noted, pointing to the increase in demands for materials for traditional and new uses – such as energy-efficient construction, bio-based products, and bioenergy.

He highlighted that existing policies have not stopped deforestation and forest degradation globally; between 1990-2010 alone, more than 7% of natural and semi-natural forests were lost. Mr. Hontelez tabled three proposals:

1) A goal or target on halting deforestation by 2020, which could be possible with intensified political will and international cooperation, and recognition that this is of global interest.
2) A goal or target of 15% restoration of degraded forest lands, in line with Aichi Target 15, where governments and stakeholders have already committed to work to the restoration of 150 million ha in forests in 2020. Such an objective would compensate for the forest loss of the last 20 years.
3) Ensure sustainable forest management by 2020, in line with Aichi Target 7. The FSC further proposed a specific indicator in terms of the “increased use of transparent, effective, balanced multi-stakeholder governed forest and chain-of custody systems, particularly in regions where forests are under most pressure.”

Shela Patrickson, from Cities Biodiversity Center / ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and speaking on behalf of the Local Authorities Major Group, noted that biodiversity underpins the very survival of the world’s population, and the majority of that population lives in cities. The number of urban dwellers is projected to almost double again by 2050. “Much of this urbanization,” she stressed, “will take place in biodiversity hotspots, and biodiversity therefore needs to be a fundamentally integrated part of this development.”

Cities also consume a proportionally large percentage of the world’s natural resources, with impacts on biodiversity, both within and without the city boundaries, Ms. Patrickson stressed, adding, “This means that there needs to be cross-boundary partnerships between local, sub-national and national governments, as well as the linkages between urban and rural areas, to address biodiversity loss and sustainable consumption.” In addition, cities often contain rich amounts of biodiversity, as the recently published City Biodiversity Outlook outlines. Ms. Patrickson indicated that urban biodiversity provides essential ecosystems, and green urban areas have been shown to reduce to violence, increase health and productivity, and improve quality of life of citizens.

Ms. Patrickson concluded by advocating that the relationship between biodiversity and cities cannot be ignored if a comprehensive and meaningful set of SDGs is to be developed. “An urban SDG should therefore include biodiversity as a fundamental component due to cities reliance on biodiversity, the significant impact that they have, and the rich levels of biodiversity contained in urban areas,” she urged. In addition, she advocated not only for a standalone Biodiversity SDG and Urban SDG, but also for the integration of biodiversity into many of the other SDGs as a core and cross-cutting theme.

Anne-Hélène Prieur-Richard from DIVERSITAS-ICSU and speaking on behalf of the Scientific and Technological Community Major Group, also noted that biodiversity underpins Earth’s “life support systems” for people, now and in the future, through direct and indirect benefits such as good health, food, water, energy, and climate regulation.

Specifically, biodiversity contributes to human health in different ways:
1) It provides genetic resources necessary to develop antibiotics, vaccines and biotechnological solutions for modern and traditional medicine;
2) Maintaining biodiversity-rich habitats protects humans from being exposed to diseases carried by wildlife; and
3) Indirect health-supporting benefits of biodiversity are related to food security and nutrition or provision of clean water.

The Science & Technology Community recommends the definition of biodiversity related targets for:
1) The determinants of human wellbeing such as health, secure supplies of food and freshwater;
2) Natural resource governance systems and institutions to ensure equitable and sustainable management of biodiversity and its benefits for people; and
3) The conservation of intrinsic value of biodiversity and its role in the maintenance of healthy and productive ecosystems.

Responding to panellists, Susan Lieberman from Wildlife Conservation Society indicated that the Rio+20 outcome document, in paragraph 203, recognizes the economic, social, and environmental impacts of trafficking in wildlife, and the importance of effective international cooperation among relevant international organizations. “The SDGs can now help turn that into reality,” she stressed, urging Member States to include text in the SDGs that addresses poaching and illegal wildlife trade. She further indicated that illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illegal trade globally, totaling some US$19 billion a year. “Poaching and illegal wildlife trade are serious crimes, driven by demand, facilitated by corruption, and linked to organized crime and militias in many countries. This trade poses a threat to species, ecosystems, and the wellbeing of local communities, sustainable development, livelihoods, and poverty elimination,” she warned. Concluding, Ms. Lieberman called on the SDGs to recognize the clear link between wildlife trafficking and organized crime, peace and security, and to include a clear target to eliminate poaching and illegal trade.

To read the Women’s Major Group contribution for the Eighth Session of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (OWG8): Forests and Biodiversity – Analysis and key recommendations, click here.

Click here for the webcast of the 4 February morning hearing.

See also the UN-NGLS interview with Simone Lovera of the Global Forest Coalition.

The UN-NGLS policy brief on The Ocean and Seas produced for the OWG on SDGS is available here.