Unified wood energy terminology (UWET)

At the international level, FAO collects and disseminates annual data on fuelwood and charcoal. FAO's Wood Energy Programme in conjunction with other relevant agencies has initiated action for a progressive improvement of our Wood Energy Information System (WEIS).

The existing information on biofuels in general, and woodfuels in particular, is highly aggregated and focused on the consumption of few biofuels (commodities or products) without giving due attention and recognition to other related aspects on the demand side and supply sources.

The main problems commonly encountered in the compilation and presentation of current bioenergy databases can be categorized in the following main general areas.



supply sources



Direct woodfuels











Indirect woodfuels




Recovered woodfuels

Black liquor






Heat and power


Coverage. Currently FAOSTAT includes data and information only on fuelwood and charcoal, omitting other important kinds of fuel produced from wood. For instance, data on black liquor (the most important form of wood energy in many developed countries) are not included.

Disaggregation. Regardless of the importance of non-forest supply sources of wood energy and the large use of recycled products, the supply side is not disaggregated in FAO's wood energy database. On the other hand, although there is a clear shift in wood energy demand from traditional to modern uses, with a considerable impact on whole wood energy systems, this demand information is not presented in the current FAO database.

Definitions and units incompatibility. The absence of a comprehensive framework and clear set of definitions limits the possibility of comparison between other data sources on wood energy. Therefore, properly disaggregated biofuel data, with their respective units of measure and conversion factors clearly described and defined, are crucial for the collection, compilation and presentation of statistical data and information on bioenergy.

The proposed terms presented in the Table above follow as much as possible the existing definitions currently used in FAO Forest Products Yearbook (and available in FAO Forestry Paper No. 32, Classification and definitions of forest products), but they also include woodfuel categories and their respective terminology in line with the International Standard Industrial Classification of all Economic Activities (ISIC), Revision 3, developed and widely used for all conventional fuels and forest products.

The proposed terminology is organized following the different woodfuel types (fuelwood, charcoal, black liquor and other) as major commodities/products for all the data collection, compilation and presentation, while data for woodfuel supply sources and woodfuel end users have been categorized following the multiple interrelations between commodities, supply sources and end users as shown in the scheme presented in the Figure below.



In this way, the main woodfuel supply sources can be classified into three major groups: Direct woodfuels, Indirect woodfuels and Recovered woodfuels and data on the demand side are disaggregated by main users as shown in the Table.

The full electronic version of UWET will shortly be posted on our Web page for your comments.


Forestry department task force on the role of forestry in carbon sequestration

In order to coordinate the multiple activities to be undertaken by different technical units on climate change, FAO has set up the Ad hoc Group on Climate in Relation to Agriculture and Food Security in its Sustainable Development Department. The group is composed of representatives, at the technical level, from the departments, divisions and services interested in climate, its variability and changes.

Its main functions are to:





In addition, FAO's Forestry Department has created a Task Force on the Role of Forestry in Carbon Sequestration with the aim of:

The Task Force's main functions are to:


For more information, please contact:
Mr M.A. Trossero at the address given
on the first page.


Comparison of forestry...




...to curb carbon emissions in power generation



Biomass as an energy substitute for fossil fuels or a sink for sequestering carbon -implications for the Kyoto Protocol

At first reading the Kyoto Protocol appears only to advocate planting and conserving trees ("afforestation and reforestation") in order to create carbon sinks in the trees themselves and also in soils. Little is said about using the trees' (and other) biomass as an energy source to substitute the use of CO2-emitting fossil fuels.

However, it has been recognized for a decade that growing and using biomass on a continuous basis as a substitute for fossil fuels has clear advantages compared with using the biomass solely as a means to sequester carbon to create a carbon sink. Renewably grown biomass is a CO2-neutral fuel with a low sulphur content and can be converted into electricity, heat and liquid and gaseous fuels. The biomass is grown perennially to generate energy so that environmental benefits accrue, e.g. soil, biodiversity, in comparison with annual crops. In addition, rural communities gain jobs rather than taking land out of productive use only to sequester carbon. Thus, there are numerous environmental and social advantages to be gained from growing and producing biomass energy.

The problems with growing biomass as a carbon sink are that: i) once the trees or plants reach maturity, they start losing their stored carbon; and ii) maintenance and protection costs are incurred throughout the lifetime of the trees. However, when growing biomass with defined (short) rotations and using it as a source of fuel, income is generated continuously, thus creating local jobs and other benefits. Indeed, trying to maintain carbon sink forests for long periods may be very difficult unless rigid legal and fire protection systems are enforced. People may need to be excluded in order to prevent damage and loss of carbon sinks. This may not be feasible in many countries unless an effective long-term infrastructure exists.

Naturally, where mature forests exist they should be conserved both as carbon sinks and as deposits of biodiversity. In addition, where biomass energy plantations are grown (probably on excess arable and degraded land) they must follow ecological guidelines so as to improve above- and below-ground biodiversity and carbon sinks. Balancing the short- and long-term carbon and income benefits of these two approaches (substitution versus sequestration) on a given piece of land depends on numerous factors, such as yield and rotation, which can be modelled.

In the European Union (EU) a recent White Paper on Renewable Energy proposed that Europe could double its renewable contribution from the current 6 percent to 12 percent by 2010, which would substantially help meet Kyoto Protocol targets. It was proposed that biomass energy in total could contribute an additional 90 million tonnes oil equivalent (mtoe) per year compared with the present annual contribution of about 47 mtoe. Of this additional energy, "energy crops" (trees, woody grasses, etc.) are proposed in order to provide 45 mtoe per year, which could be grown on about 13 million ha of land (4 percent of total land at a yield of 10 tonnes/ha plus a conversion rate of 75 percent). This additional 45 mtoe per year of renewable, CO2-neutral biomass energy would reduce CO2 emissions by 50 million tonnes of carbon per year compared with the present EU total CO2 emissions of 890 million tonnes of carbon per year. The contribution of all forms of biomass (137 mtoe) to reducing CO2 would total about 150 million tonnes of carbon by 2010, i.e. a reduction of 17 percent, which is double the EU's obligation under the Kyoto Protocol.

A clear point for policy-makers is that trees (and other forms of biomass) can act as carbon sinks but at maturity or at their optimum growth rate there must be plans to use the biomass as a source of fuel to offset fossil energies (or as very long-lived timber products). Otherwise the many years of paying to sequester and protect the carbon in trees will simply be lost as they decay and/or burn uncontrollably. Biomass has many advantages for an environmentally friendly future but, to obtain the maximum benefit, trees (other than in primary forests) must be used as an energy source at the end of their growing life. (Contributed by: Prof. D.O. Hall, King's College London, London W8 7AH, UK. E-mail: david.hall@ kcl.ac.uk)


Outcome and follow-up of the IPPCC/SBSTA meetings hosted by FAO

FAO was glad to have the opportunity of hosting the two meetings related to the Land-Use Change and Forestry (LUCF) aspects of the Kyoto Protocol from 23 to 25 September 1998, and was pleased with the outcome of the meetings. In addition to having had the possibility of meeting more than 100 specialists, together with the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) delegations from more than 20 countries, the most useful outcome was having established a good working relationship with the SBSTA secretariat and with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Considerable progress was made on the discussion of definitions used for LUCF presented in Articles 3.3 and 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol regarding afforestation, reforestation and deforestation (ARD).

Progress was also made in the preparation of the Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry, and Carbon Emissions and Sequestration. FAO will provide inputs to the report through lead authors and will act as peer reviewer.

For more information, please contact:
Mr M.A. Trossero at the address given
on the first page.


World energy council congress

The 17th World Energy Council (WEC) Congress took place in Houston, Texas, United States from 13 to 18 September 1998. It was attended by 35 Ministers of Energy and by more than 5 000 energy experts from nearly 100 countries. The main presentations and discussions addressed the challenges facing the energy sector in the next decades, when fossil fuels will necessarily be replaced by renewable energy sources because of both supply and environmental reasons. Particular attention was given to the operation of energy systems independent of power grids or fuel pipeline networks, based on the decentralized operation of solar energy, wind and biomass, using modern conversion technologies. FAO's paper, "Wood Energy in Developing Countries" was submitted to the WEC Developing Country Committee; it was highly commended and will be published in conjunction with a paper entitled "Energy in Rural Areas of Developing Countries". These documents will serve as a platform for WEC's future activities in the field of rural energy. (Contributed by: Mr Gustavo Best, Senior Energy Coordinator, Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN), Sustainable Development Department, FAO.)

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