Barking Up the Wrong Tree? Forest Sustainability in the Wake of Emerging Bioenergy Policies

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Renewable energy policies generally have assumed that forests can provide a significant source of environmentally-friendly feedstocks for electricity, heat and power generation. Resistance is emerging, however, from those who fear society’s ravenous push for renewable energy solutions will lead to destructive overharvesting of forests with no net gain in GHG reduction. Policymakers face many obstacles moving forward, particularly in developing timely GHG policies in the face of scientific uncertainty on the lifecycle GHG emissions of various forest practices. Policymakers also must confront biodiversity loss and decreased soil and water quality resulting from the lack of sustainable forest management (SFM) policies. 
 
Bioenergy and forest management policy, therefore, must quickly evolve to address environmental sustainability with the urgency necessary to keep pace with renewable energy demand, and within novel future forest landscapes. Sustainability precedents exist in voluntary niche markets through application of private standards. In the U.S. however, large volumes of forests are under private ownership and remain uncertified; state forest management policies vary from state-to-state. European and international forest policy suffer from vagueness and lack of properly functioning governance. Private certification standards are increasingly referenced in bioenergy policies, but not all programs are viewed by environmental groups as equal. Unless governments can apply SFM effectively to forest-to-energy feedstocks, their role in helping meet ambitious bioenergy targets will be severely limited.

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