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6. Conclusions and recommendations

6.1. Conclusions

General issues

Role of wood energy statistics

Wood energy statistics are essential for:

In this perspective it is essential to understand the value of existing statistics and pave the way for their improvement.

Wood energy statistics today

Several international (UN New York, FAO, EC/FAO, IEA, WEC, etc.), regional (Eurostat, UNECE/FAO Timber Branch; Olade, Enda, AIT) and national organizations have provided wood energy statistics and information that are now included in i-WESTAT. Comparison with previous versions showed that most databases were recently reviewed, highlighting a revived interest of international agencies in wood energy statistics.

In general, wood energy statistics receive marginal attention from both the forestry and energy sectors and consequently they are scarce, of low reliability, poorly defined and have wide discrepancies among different sources.

Particularly serious is the lack of data on supply sources, which prevents addressing the sustainability issue with objectivity.

It is worth emphasizing that unreliable statistics are not a problem per se but rather they are a symptom of a more serious national incapacity in managing the sector, with inevitable negative consequences on the sustainability of resources and services.

In conclusion, despite a tangible improvement in the last few years, existing woodfuel data is still not adequate for understanding the dynamics of wood energy systems; for evaluating the role of wood energy in the energy sector; for assessing energy use of forest products; for assessing the role of woodfuels in climate change mitigation and sustainable development; or for formulating forestry, energy and wood energy policies.

Recently, the issue of the quality of wood energy statistics was raised at the 26th Session of the Joint FAO/UNECE Working Party on Forest Economics and Statistics (see Box 1).

I-WESTAT, with its user-friendly consultation frame, allows comparison of all statistics and cross-referencing of all primary and secondary sources, thus assessing, country by country and item by item, convergences and contradictions. With these functions i-WESTAT helps in the evaluation of existing data, offers an opportunity to identify the main limitations, problems and drawbacks faced by major wood energy statistics sources and assists in paving the way to overcoming them.

FAOSTAT and other FAO initiatives

FAO forestry statistics provide the most consistent input to the quantification of woodfuel flows but their information content needs to be understood in order to produce consistent wood energy statistics. Key aspects are as described below.

In accordance with their original aim, FAO forest products statistics report forestry data supplied by member countries, usually by the ministries responsible for forestry. FAO also has the license to produce its own estimates for filling data gaps when needed.

National forestry agencies have a very low capacity for providing consistent wood energy data, and this factor strongly affects the reliability and completeness of wood energy statistics. Unlike other conventional forestry products, woodfuel production and consumption concern both the forestry and energy sectors while forest and non-forest wood resources and their flow are almost entirely informal.

Since the adoption of the new questionnaire and the change in definition from “fuelwood” to “wood fuel, including wood for charcoal” in the roundwood removal category, the role and contribution of FAOSTAT forestry statistics in the creation of consistent wood energy statistics has become clearer. Some contradiction still remains, however, where data gaps are filled in with GFPOS fuelwood model estimates that refer to total consumption inclusive of all supply sources and not only to roundwood removals.

Considering the structure and mandate of FAOSTAT forestry statistics, whose main balance is in total removals, it is unlikely that in the near future they will develop to cover the entire range of wood energy items and aspects. In fact, many of these items are created downstream, from sources that have been put in the production statistics under other categories (such as pulp- or sawnwood) or are produced in farmlands and other non-forest domains.

In synthesis, according to the UBET definition of woodfuels, FAOSTAT provides statistics on charcoal only.

Specific fuelwood and black liquor statistics are not provided by FAOSTAT forestry statistics but these include other items that can be used in their estimation. Such items are: “wood fuel, including wood for charcoal” (a sub item of roundwood removals), “wood residues” and “chemical/semi-chemical pulp”.

In fact, as discussed earlier, the fuelwood and charcoal data included in the i-WESTAT database as “FAOSTAT (2003)” are not true FAOSTAT data but were derived by combining the original FAOSTAT data mentioned above following, as closely as possible, the woodfuel balance scheme of WEIS and UBET (Appendix 2).

FAOSTAT data has been available for all countries over a 42 year period (1961–2003) but there is no disaggregation by sector or by area of consumption.

In addition to FAOSTAT data, FAO has contributed to the development of consistent wood energy statistics at national, regional and global level through many initiatives. The most relevant actions undertaken in the last few years are listed in Box 2.

Complexity of wood energy systems

The patterns of woodfuel production and consumption, and their associated social, economic and environmental impacts, are quite complex and very site- and situation- specific.

The disciplines that regulate wood energy are extremely heterogeneous, encompassing forestry, physics, economy, social sciences, etc., which make the technical capacity to manage this sector a very rare item.

Broad generalizations of woodfuel situations at regional, national and even at sub national level, based on a poor understanding of area-based wood energy systems, still commonly lead to biased assumptions [10] and, consequently, to poor statistics.

To date, woodfuel data have been “minor elements” of forestry and energy information systems, in which they receive a level of attention that is clearly not adequate for the inter-sectoral and inter disciplinary complexity of wood energy systems. As a result, there is a problem of inadequate capacities by national institutions in coping with wood energy statistics (and hence in supplying statistics to international agencies).

Diverging forestry and energy perspectives

The frequent and wide discrepancies among information sources result from the lack of solid reference data and inconsistent estimation methods, reflecting the different perspectives of forestry and energy agencies on this sector.

This is the case of FAOSTAT (2003) and IEA (2002), which hold the two most important databases. The main references of the first are national forestry agencies, with a traditional focus on wood removals from the forests (although this perspective is rapidly evolving), with the risk of a systematic underestimation of woodfuel quantities. On the other hand, the references of the second are mainly energy agencies and energy balance statistics. These two perspectives cause major discrepancies in the final estimates (as discussed in section 5.2 and in several country cases summarized in Appendix 11).

Lack of clear responsibility

Wood energy is strongly inter-sectoral, considering the important forestry, energy, rural development and agricultural aspects that characterize it. This is a characteristic that produces a fragmentation of competencies among institutions and services, each of which holds a piece of the information puzzle that concerns the wood energy sector. In spite of the important role of wood energy in both forestry and energy none of them takes full responsibility for developing wood energy policies and for making them a priority issue.

It is becoming more and more evident that the wood energy issue cannot be dealt with from a single perspective and that a sound approach must integrate all sectors and disciplines concerned.

Specific issues


Unambiguous wood energy terms and clear definitions are essential for the comparison and combination of statistics from different sources and, most importantly, they are instrumental in the processes of estimation. Wood energy terms have always suffered from simplifications and generalizations.

Fuelwood, according to UBET, includes wood residues and recovered wood but this is often overlooked. In FAOSTAT, for instance, the category “Wood Fuel, including wood for charcoal”, which refers to roundwood removals, clearly does not include wood residues. However, the results of GFPOS models, which are used to fill gaps in the above category of FAOSTAT, are based on consumption data that do include them. Quantitatively this is not very relevant but it represents a conceptual contradiction.

The promotion of UBET by FAO has brought significant improvement in this context but the process of agreement and adoption is still informal and needs to be pursued further.

Data coverage

The coverage of woodfuel products and flows by the various sources is extremely heterogeneous (see Appendixes 5 to 9). Only the statistics based on FAOSTAT (2003) cover the entire range of items (combination of products and flows), while most other sources report only on selected items. The most common items are fuelwood and charcoal consumption.

Additional information on the sector of consumption (i.e. household, industrial and commercial) is provided by nine out of 20 primary sources, IEA being the most relevant, and for selected countries only (Appendix 8). Information on area of consumption, i.e. urban and rural, can be found only in two primary data sources: country reports and other national (Appendix 7). Unfortunately, FAOSTAT (2003) does not provide disaggregated data by sector and/or area.

The temporal and geographic coverage by various sources are also extremely heterogeneous (Appendixes 5 and 9). FAOSTAT (2003) and GFPOS modeling show the more comprehensive coverage, including all countries of the world with time series from 1961 to 2003 (FAOSTAT) and from 1970 to 2030 (GFPOS).

Because of these inconsistencies the comparison between primary sources is limited mainly to fuelwood and charcoal consumption. The best level of comparison can be achieved at the level of individual countries, where i-WESTAT carries out its most important function. Direct comparison at global or regional level is impossible, except for FAO datasets (FAOSTAT 2003, WETT99 best estimates and GFPOS). A more interesting comparison between FAOSTAT (2003) and IEA (2002) on a subset of countries covered by both sources shows that IEA figures are significantly higher than FAOSTAT’s for fuelwood consumption but in reasonable agreement concerning charcoal consumption (see Chapter 5). The values of black liquor based on FAOSTAT’s paper pulp statistics are higher than IEA’s but this is probably on the result of conversion factor inconsistencies that can be easily resolved.

It is important to highlight that there is no information at all on fuelwood and charcoal supply sources (natural forests, forest plantations, agricultural plantations, orchards, etc.) or on sustainability aspects. Except for wood residues and by-products of industrial processes, which represent fairly closed production/consumption cycles, the supply sources of fuelwood and of charcoal are undefined, leaving ample room for speculation about the real impact on natural forest resources and meaning that the sustainability issue cannot be addressed with objectivity.

Data generation

Questionnaires. The questionnaire approach, which is followed by international data sources, has several weaknesses, such as the lack of documentation on the references and estimation procedures used, or the simple fact that questionnaires are often not filled out. In these cases the agencies issuing the questionnaires are forced to seek alternative sources or to make their own estimates. FAOSTAT, for instance, was forced to estimate more than 50 percent of its woodfuel figures reported so far and the situation does not seem to improve (in 2000, the estimated values were over 60 percent).

Moreover, experiences at FAO and IEA have shown that including wood energy within huge questionnaires on other items may lead to neglecting this item. It is evident that energy from wood has complicated interdisciplinary and inter sectoral aspects and therefore requires a high degree of attention. If a questionnaire approach cannot be avoided, then a specific one should be designed focused on wood energy aspects, including that of woodfuel supply sources.

The adoption of joint questionnaires, resulting from international collaboration and coordination, such as the Joint Forest Sector Questionnaire and the Joint Questionnaire on Renewables and Wastes mentioned below, is an important step that improves the consistency of supplied data with reduced stress on national correspondents but does not resolve the problem of data reliability.

In several instances the questionnaire approach has been abandoned in favor of more reliable data collection systems. A clear case is the FAO Forest Resources Assessment Programme, which abandoned such an approach in the 1970s in favor of documented references, expert judgments, survey approaches, etc. wood energy questionnaires should therefore be complemented by exhaustive metadata or replaced by well documented expert judgments.

GFPOS modeling. GFPOS modeling of fuelwood and charcoal consumption provided time series for all countries of the world and is currently used to fill data gaps in FAOSTAT forestry statistics. If the effect of the GFPOS study is limited to this application and to the series of estimates already produced, its impact is likely to fade away in a short time. On the contrary, the GFPOS study could provide a continued benefit if the most efficient models were to be converted into flexible ‘adjustment functions’ to be used with new reference data. Another important product of GFPOS is the dataset on woodfuel consumption that was derived from selected field surveys and used for the development of the various models. If properly structured and updated with recent reliable observations this dataset will represent a solid asset for future studies and model refinements.

The complexity of wood energy calls for a thematically focused and multidisciplinary approach. The development of a reliable data collection system should benefit from the collaboration of international and national forestry and energy agencies, the integration of relative competences, and the transparent sharing of data and competencies. The guidelines for the execution of national woodfuel surveys produced and disseminated by FAO [8] may play an important role in this context.

Conversion factors

The treatment and conversion of units are important aspects, sometimes responsible for inconsistencies between statistics derived from the same original data.

The way in which primary data are converted should be the same at all agencies. Conversion from volume to energy units needs some basic assumptions, to be agreed upon by all relevant statistical institutes. These specifically refer to the average dry matter density of the wood used and its average moisture content. On the basis of these assumptions, conversion factors can be calculated. In addition, agreement on efficiency rates of common conversion technologies and clarity on whether such rates are applied or not are essential.

It seems that at present there is no clear idea as to what kinds of assumptions are appropriate. It should be realized that this can provide huge distortions. It may be necessary not to have overall conversion factors, but to differentiate for regions according to prevailing regional conditions. In this case assumptions may be different for different regions, but the method for conversion should remain the same.

The conversion method to express black liquor into wood volume equivalents should receive special attention.

Overall conclusions

The poor state of wood energy statistics are a result of the lack of a sectoral policy focus at national as well as international level rather than the quality of existing data. The problem is not lack of reliable data per se but rather the lack of a uniform and consistent analytical perspective, which prevents proper use of the information that exists in the forestry and energy agencies of most countries.

What are the chances of improvement?

The poor condition of wood energy statistics are a result of many problems of a varying nature. Some of these are deeply-rooted, requiring long-term plans of action such as the re-directing of institutional responsibilities at national and international levels and the deployment of additional human and financial resources.

But this should not be discouraging. Other problems are of a more technical nature and can be approached with significant benefits in a comparatively short time frame and with minor financial investment. It is just a matter of spacing out actions.

Beneficial short-term actions could include the distribution of I-WESTAT to international agencies and national correspondents. This would play an important catalytic role. The possibility of visualizing the various estimates will indicate the benefits of a collaborative approach for the definition of common procedures and standards. As discussed in Chapter 5, for example, a major part of the discrepancy between FAOSTAT and IEA fuelwood consumption statistics could be resolved by reconciling the estimates for China and India alone.

At the same time, the harmonization of definitions and conversion factors and the joint review of references, for instance, can considerably reduce the discrepancies among international data sources and enhance the general sense of confidence about this “complicated issue”.

Another action could be the integration of existing knowledge. It is argued that the discrepancies and inconsistencies of wood energy statistics depend on the lack of integration of existing information as much as on the availability of data. The review and integration of existing information (from forestry, energy, industry, demography, etc.) cost far less than the collection of new data and allow the definition of critical data gaps, thus reducing the need for expensive surveys. A great deal of information exists in the countries that can be analyzed and integrated through methods such as WISDOM, which has high benefits and relatively low costs.

Changing attitude

A changing attitude towards wood energy is becoming more and more evident in developed and, to a lesser extent, developing countries. As a result, wood energy is receiving higher recognition than ever before.

Notwithstanding the concern about questionnaires expressed under “Data generation” above, the adoption of shared questionnaires and definitions has the beneficial effects of reducing the pressure on national correspondents (often afflicted by look-alike forms from international agencies asking for the same information) and reducing the confusion created by similar but largely inconsistent datasets.

To date there have been just weak and not always effective actions but there are clear signs of an increased interest in wood energy by international and national agencies and of a more active and positive attitude towards a process of upgrading wood energy statistics.

Wood energy tools

The tools developed by FAO can play an important proactive and normative role in promoting and upgrading wood energy statistics.

UBET and i-WESTAT represent useful tools in the task of improving wood energy statistics.

In addition, the Guide for Woodfuel Surveys and WISDOM methodology developed and disseminated by FAO represent well-focused tools for building national capacities of collecting and analyzing wood energy statistics.

In synthesis, the elements listed above justify some optimism. There is reasonable hope of improving the quality of wood energy statistics and the understanding of the dynamics of wood energy systems dynamics.

6.2. Recommendations

In order to support the development of a uniform and comprehensive wood energy outlook, and hence to build up consistent statistics, it is recommended that the dialogue between forestry and energy institutions be improved along with the integration of existing knowledge and espertese within these two sectors. To this end, the following actions are recommended:

Institutional Collaboration

Short term

At the bilateral level it is recommended that FAO (wood energy group and FAOSTAT) liase with the Energy Statistics Division of IEA as a privileged partner on wood energy statistics and undertake a joint review of respective woodfuel statistics. It is envisaged that minimal consultations can resolve the major discrepancies between the data of the two agencies and for the basis for a coordinated initiative.

The aim of these consultations will be to review terms and definitions, cross-reference the respective data sources (from questionnaires, national statistics, country correspondents, etc.), to determine the pest estimation procedures and to define common conversion and transformation factors and efficiency rates. This process will be greatly facilitated by the i-WESTAT database.

Medium term

At the multilateral level, it is recommended that international and regional agencies concerned with wood energy statistics:

Long term

FAO action on wood energy statistics

Short term

Medium Term

Long term

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