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Determining the consumption of fuelwood or charcoal in a given country by consulting and comparing different information sources has always been a trying experience. The definitions are rarely consistent, the measurement units are different and the discrepancies among the reported values are so wide, that one remains utterly confused.

In order to clarify the complex issue of wood energy statistics the Forest Products and Economics Division prepared and adopted the Unified Bioenergy Terminology (UBET) and developed the interactive Wood Energy Statistics (i-WESTAT), which assembles wood energy data collected from FAOSTAT as well as from international databases and other national sources.

i-WESTAT has now been updated (Version 2.0) and includes additional data from national sources, a thorough revision and update of data from international databases, with improved definitions and references. The database now contains over 115 000 records, with each value being defined by a primary source and a secondary source that helps to qualify it and to demonstrate its true value.

The aim of i-WESTAT is to support sector analysts and other interested users in reviewing the entire range of estimates, harmonized in terms of definitions and measurement units. This is done through an interactive user interface that allows for queries of information sources, periods, items, units and provides graphic or tabular displaying of results. While visualizing the range of estimates produced by all sources, the analyst can review the secondary sources or estimation procedures behind the individual figures and thus develop his/her own perception of the “weight” of the various figures and their reliability.

The review of primary and secondary data sources has shown that most wood energy statistics are estimated rather than measured, and their reliability varies from source to source and from country to country. It may be concluded that no single data source can be considered as fully authoritative and it is therefore important for the user, as well as for the database developer, to visualize this variance, rather than relying on a single data source, and to look for convergences and relations among the existing estimates. i-WESTAT thus illustrates how much needs to be done in order to achieve better wood energy statistics at national and international level.

In the last few years there has been a marked increase in the attention paid by international and national agencies to wood energy statistics. Moreover, woodfuels and other biomass fuels are acquiring new relevance in the context of the carbon and green house gas emission inventories required under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.

This increased attention has resulted in better structured databases, more comprehensive geographic coverage and more comparable statistics, the latter a result of the adoption of consistent terms and definitions as promoted by the Forestry Department of FAO. Such improved attention and recognition by national and international agencies however, has not yet induced a significant increase in field data collection and, consequently, data reliability is still poor.

Wood energy statistics are poor in both developed and developing countries because of insufficient institutional awareness about the importance of wood energy for local, national and regional economies. One of the biggest problems remains the different “forestry” or “energy” perspectives adopted by the estimating agencies. Forestry agencies rely primarily on forest production data, which often underestimate the entire flow of woodfuels while energy agencies rely primarily on estimation of sectoral energy requirements and fuel preferences.

Unreliable statistics are not a problem per se but rather they highlight a far more serious national incapacity to manage the sector, with inevitable negative consequences on sustainability of resources and services.

International and national institutions concerned with wood energy must continue on the path of data sharing and collaboration that has developed in recent years and strengthen joint efforts towards the collection of reliable information. It must be emphasized that improved data quality can only come from better country data.

To this end, in order to improve the reliability of wood energy data at national level and to support policy formulation and planning, FAO has developed and disseminated a practical guide for woodfuel energy surveys and the Woodfuel Integrated Supply/Demand Overview Mapping (WISDOM) methodology. The FAO experience with the implementation of WISDOM in some countries, such as Mexico, Slovenia and Senegal, shows that acceptable or even exhaustive wood energy statistics can be created using existing information, if the interest and the will to do it exist.

Wulf Killmann
Forest Products and Economics Division
Forestry Department
FAO, Rome

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