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Executive summary

The interactive Wood Energy Statistics (i-WESTAT) is a multi-source database that assembles worldwide wood fuel data, in comparable units, from international energy agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization, other United Nations (UN) agencies, from national sources and thematic studies.

The i-WESTAT database has recently been updated (Version 2.0). The current version contains several improvements in the quantity and quality of woodfuel data; has more consistent definitions and a broader array of reference information. The database contains more than 115 000 records from 20 primary international and national sources and 400 reference categories. The graphic interface is designed to respond to specific queries and provides for information filters based on year, product, country, primary and secondary information source.

The database itself contains information for 213 countries from 1961 to 2003, and provides projections to 2030 from the Global Forest Products Outlook Study (GFPOS-FAO) source. The database includes information on production, import, export and consumption of woodfuel, fuelwood, charcoal and black liquor. Data on consumption by sector and by urban/rural areas was included where available.

A comparison of current and historical datasets shows marked differences in wood energy statistics. Over the past few years, almost all concerned international agencies have modified their estimation approaches, expanded the geographic coverage and improved on definitions. In addition, the cooperation between the main agencies has increased considerably, the result of an increasing institutional interest in wood energy.

That said, a reliable source for wood energy statistics cannot be identified. Meaning, the definition of “best estimates” would require a thorough review and cross-referencing of all data sources country by country and item by item. i-WESTAT is designed to facilitate this process.

i-WESTAT provides a comprehensive dataset with best-available information but its usefulness is limited by the quality of the statistics themselves. Wood energy statistics provided from most sources are generally poor. The problem is not lack of reliable data per se but rather the lack of consistent and uniform use of the available information from the forestry, energy and other agencies involved in wood energy. Woodfuel data has been a minor element in these agencies information systems and therefore, institutional capacity to manage wood energy systems is weak and often results in unsustainable resource use while limiting the ability of policy makers to understand the impacts of wood energy on development at local and national levels.

Key issues

Wood energy statistics are essential for: (i) understanding the dynamics of wood energy systems; (ii) evaluating the role played by woodfuels in the energy sector; (iii) assessing the share of forest products used for energy purposes (direct/indirect); (iv) assessing the role of woodfuels in climate change mitigation and sustainable development; and (v) formulating sound energy policies.

The complex nature of wood energy systems requires an inter-disciplinary approach. Wood energy plays a major role in both the forestry and energy sectors but receives limited attention from both, and neither takes full responsibility for developing the sector. Woodfuel statistics from these agencies often differ due to the fact that forestry agencies traditionally focus of wood removals from forests while energy agencies focus on energy balance statistics. These two perspectives cause major discrepancies in final estimates.

Beyond sectoral issues, other key limitations to wood energy statistics can be summarized as follows:

Terminology: Wood energy terms and definitions are not consistent and have often been simplified or generalized.

Data coverage: The coverage of woodfuel products and flows by the various sources is extremely heterogeneous. While some sources disaggregate fuelwood data by sector of consumption, others do not. More importantly, there is no information on supply sources for fuelwood and charcoal (i.e. natural forests, forest plantations, agricultural plantations, etc.).

Data generation: Accurate data generation is hindered by the current methods for data gathering and the lack of an inter-disciplinary approach to collection and interpretation. In some cases, international data sources use questionnaires to collect data. This approach is limited by the fact that there is little supporting documentation on references and procedures use—and sometimes, by the simple fact that the questionnaires are not filled out. FAOSTAT, for instance, was forced to estimate more than 50% of its woodfuel figures.

Conversion factors: The treatment and conversion of units (i.e. heat rates of specific woodfuels) often differ, causing inconsistencies between statistics derived from the same original data. At the same time, there is no agreement on efficiency rates of common conversion technologies and clarity on what rates are applied.


Over the past few years, FAO has undertaken several initiatives aimed at enhancing countries’ capacities in wood energy planning and improvement of wood energy statistics. These initiatives include the development of normative actions such as the Unified Bioenergy Terminology (UBET)—that classifies and defines woodfuel terminology to ensure data is more consistent and comparable; the production of the Guide for Woodfuel Surveys; and the Wood Energy Supply/Demand Overview Mapping (WISDOM) methodology as a planning and policy development tool.

There is also a changing attitude towards wood energy in both developed and developing countries. Current concerns about global warming and initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol have generated an increasing interest in the sustainable use of woodfuels. As a result, there has been a marked improvement in the quality of databases, geographic coverage and surveys on woodfuels, but much remains to be done.


Given the important role that woodfuels play in both forestry and energy planning, as well as their impacts on sustainable development and the environment, it is vital that reliable information be available. To this end, it is recommended that FAO, in cooperation with other agencies involved with forestry and energy, continue the process of information sharing and review; agree upon and adopt UBET as a common set of terms and definitions; combine the forestry and energy expertise to develop a specialized wood energy working group; and share responsibilities in data collection and analysis.

FAO itself has a major role to play in providing the tools and methodologies for data generation. In the short term, it is recommended that FAO: (i) provide i-WESTAT to national and international institutions (forestry and energy); (ii) continue its collection woodfuel data from local and national field surveys and through literature and bibliographic searches as was done for its Global Forest Products Outlook Study (GFPOS); (iii) convert GFPOS modeling into a flexible aid by selecting the most efficient models, updating independent variables and converting “adjustment functions”; and (iv) create standard approaches and procedures by reviewing conversion factors at national and international levels with special attention to the issue of efficiency loss.

In order to ensure continuity in data collection, medium- and long-term actions on the part of FAO should include: (i) further WISDOM analyses; (ii) the development and dissemination of tools such as the Guide for Woodfuel Surveys and the provision of technical assistance for the implementation of field surveys; and (iii) collecting (and promoting the collection of) woodfuel data disaggregated by type of woodfuel, by sectoral consumption, by geographic area and by supply source.

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