The 5th edition of the Forum on Forests, Wood Industry and Green Economy is already a tradition for the forest-timber sector. The online debates on December 14 were attended by representative organizations from the entire wood value chain (AAP, APMR, AIL – Prolemn, Nostra Silva), but also from the academia and research environment (INDCS “Marin Drăcea”), guests from the energy sector. (Energy Serv), representatives of the authorities and RNP-Romsilva, journalists and politicians interested in one of the most dynamic sectors of the Romanian economy and its potential for the environment and society.

Several news stories have been making the rounds in the media these days:

The price of carbon certificates has reached historic highs, exceeding 80 Euros/certificate, from 25 Euros/ certificate last year, putting even more pressure on decarbonisation and penalizing polluting sectors. Countries with a high share of energy production from coal-fired power plants are directly affected.

The price of gas, a transitional resource, reaches historic highs on the stock exchanges, exceeding 120 Euro per MWh.

The finances of European countries are having a hard time coping with the measures to support the population’s heating and electricity prices. Such measures can be supported in the short term, but not in the long term! The situation is similar in Romania, which through the measures of capping prices and paying the difference to heat and gas suppliers, will bear costs of around of 2-3 billion Euros. This is a subsidy that goes practically to the support of fossil fuels and is largely wasted by paying the high price of pollution by paying carbon certificates. Moreover, the subsidy has been granted for many years, instead of supporting investments for energy efficiency and decarbonization.

WWF, the well-known environmental NGO, points out that Romania allocates only 0.46% of the funding in the National Strategic Plan for the sustainable management of forests and supporting measures for their protection.

At the Forum of Forests, Wood Industry and Green Economy, the representative of the National Forests Authority – Romsilva pointed out that, due to the need to review the environmental assessment of forest management, RNP – Romsilva has withdrawn from the supply of wood for 2022 a volume of 2.5 million m3! The average adjudication prices for the wood that will be exploited in 2022 increased to 395.61 lei (about 80 Euros). In 2021, the average price was 177 lei /m3 (around 35 Euros), and in 2020 153.36 lei /m3 (or 30 Euros). Within RNP – Romsilva, wood harvesting is blocked in 17 forest districts, for the forests under normal reorganization procedure in 2021.

Cătălin Tobescu, president of the Romanian Wood Industry Association – Prolemn, pointed out that, due to the SUMAL 2.0 system, by not respecting the legal bases for issuing differentiated norms for the circulation of commercial timber and for the own consumption of forest owners, from about 800,000 ha small properties forest, 500,000 ha of wooded pastures and 700,000 ha of isolated trees the country can harvest only 1 million m3 of timber of the total potential of at least 5 million m3, by blocking the access of owners to the usufruct of their property. This results in an artificial wood resource deficit in the market. The shortage of wood also directly affects the 3.5 million households that heat with firewood, leading to a doubling of firewood prices and the diversion of valuable timber resources from industrial uses to firewood. In terms of energy, every 2 million m3 of wood is equivalent to the power of a nuclear reactor.

This is an overview of what is happening in Romania, at the macro level: energy poverty, very high costs of heating and electricity, support for fossil fuels with huge costs that go mostly in carbon certificates without improving the overall situation. In regard to forests we witness a lack of support for sustainable forest management and conservation measures, artificial shortages of timber resources created by administrative blockages.

Wood – the ignored resource for development, energy cost reduction and decarbonization

During the Forum of Forests, Wood Industry and Green Economy, it was shown that wood from the sustainably managed forests of Romania is a resource for development, decarbonization and reduction of energy costs.

The foundations of sustainable forest management are solid: Romania’s forest area is constantly growing, Romania’s forests have primary structures, natural-identical in a very high proportion, over 91%, with high biodiversity, we harvest less than 40% of net forest growth, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INS) and Eurostat, well below the European average of 70%.

In this context, it was pointed out that in Romania there was a mistake to compare the volumes “lost” in forests given by the National Forest Inventory with the value of the harvest given by the National Institute of Statistics. This, in turn, induced a misperception about the extent of illegal logging. Nowhere in Europe are these figures compared, the difference between them being well understood.

According to a study by the European Commission’s Research Center, the volume provided by the Forest Inventories includes dead wood, the entire above-ground volume of the tree, with tips, branches, and everything above the forest floor, and cannot be compared to the volume of commercial wood reported as harvested by national statistics – in this case, the INS. What matters is the net accumulation, the fact that the annual harvest is less than the growth of the forest. In Europe, this accumulation is estimated at 163 million m3 of wood per year. In Romania, the percentage of unharvested wood annually, which accumulates in forests, is even higher, respectively 24 million m3 per year, at a total forest growth of 58 million m3, according to the National Forest Inventory!

The foundations of forest management in Romania are solid: biodiversity, stability, sustainable harvest.

How do we capitalize on the timber resource in Romania’s sustainably managed forests?

Currently, harvesting and processing wood already has a major and positive environmental, economic and social impact for Romania:

Environmental impact:

  • environmental services – eco-systemic benefits – clean air and water, soil protection, biodiversity.
  • 24 million tonnes of CO2 net carbon sequestration in forests and timber products.
  • 14 million tonnes of CO2 saved from emissions by using wood, through substituting wood products for traditional materials, by avoiding the use of other materials with a higher carbon footprint.
  • At least 13 million tonnes of CO2 emissions replaced by thermal energy used to heat the 3.5 million households that heat with wood, by avoiding the use of fossil fuels!

Economic and social impact:

  • economic impact: turnover of the wood sector = 7.1 billion Euros. Exports: 3.5 billion Euros annually.
  • social impact: 150,000 direct jobs, 300,000 jobs including the horizontal training effect.
  • 5 million households that heat with firewood – biomass.

To better understand the effect of carbon storage in wood products and the substitution of these products, we suggest you consider the use of wood in construction.

Consider a wooden construction. Each cubic meter of wood stores a ton of CO2 in its structure for at least 35 years. At the end of the construction’s lifecycle, the wood can be easily recycled in energy uses or technical panels (such as PAL). But, at the same time, by using wood, we avoid the use of a cubic meter of concrete, for the production of which – cement, transport, etc. – the literature has estimated that there will be emissions of one tonne of CO2 .

For this reason, timber use in construction is considered to have a substitution factor of 2 tonnes CO2 /cubic meter used. If wood is also used for the structural elements, and thus iron is replaced, the substitution factor becomes 2.8.

On all the varieties of wood use – considering wood in construction, furniture, pulp and paper, packaging – a prudent substitution factor is 1.2 tons of CO2 of emissions avoided for every cubic meter of wood used. From the 18 million m3 wood harvest in Romania, 12 million m3 are found in various wood products, resulting in a substitution effect of at least 14 million tons of CO2 /year.

The potential of the sector – the main opportunities:

  • cascading use of timber resources – primarily in long-lived wood products with maximum substitution effect – with the opportunity to promote the use of timber in construction.
  • increasing the energy efficiency of the wood resource used for heating.
  • the increase of the forest area – the huge opportunity is given by the preservation of the use of the 500,000 ha of forested pastures in mixed agro-forestry systems. Currently, through the pasture subsidy system, pasture owners are required to clear these areas!

The opportunity to decarbonize and reduce costs in the energy sector by using biomass was the subject of a presentation at the Forum by Mr. Cătălin Dragostin from Energy Serv.

In Europe, including Romania, 35% of the total energy (thermal, electric, transport) is used in the residential sector, for heating and cooling, mainly in households. In Romania, almost half of the households are heated with wood.

Regardless of the energy resource used – coal, gas, biomass, nuclear – if it is used exclusively for electricity production, the efficiency is only 30%. The resulting thermal energy, the remaining 70%, is wasted. It is simply blown into the air – through large cooling tanks or in the case of nuclear energy, through the water-cooling system.

For this reason, all European directives encourage co-generation plants, with the simultaneous production of thermal and electrical energy, which have total thermal + electrical efficiencies of over 80%. The destruction, in Romania, of the central heating systems, based on CETs in high efficiency co-generation, is a great loss, with economic and environmental costs, a trend that must be reversed.

And the great opportunity for green renewable energy is forest and agricultural biomass, estimated in national studies at a potential of 28 million tonnes per year, with a high share of agricultural biomass.

At the forum, it was shown that biomass energy at current gas costs on the market is 3-4 times cheaper than gas energy, with huge benefits adjacent to the substitution effect, and avoidance of carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

The simple conclusion: heating the population, the residential sector, is the neglected segment in the National Plan for Recovery and resilience, with the huge opportunity to use agricultural and forestry biomass in cogeneration plants to decarbonize the energy sector and reduce costs! Instead of subsidizing the fossil fuel energy industry with billions of euros a year with the ever-worsening problems and rising costs by increasing the price of carbon certificates, and therefore penalties, the huge opportunity is agricultural and forestry biomass.

The potential of the forestry sector to support economic development and at the same time contribute to combating climate change is huge. Unfortunately, this potential is wasted by blocking the market access of timber resources – see the situations exposed by the impact of the retroactive revision of environmental assessments for forest management and SUMAL 2.0 on small forest properties, as well as by the lack of funding for forestry sector through the National Strategic Plan 2023-2027: 0.46% for forests in the NPS!

There is a gap between the potential of forests and wood-based industries for development, decarbonization, cost reduction and the reality of public policies for the sector, a gap filled with disinformation and hypocrisy related to forest protection!

Bureaucracy and lack of investments are artificially constricting the wood market

At this moment, various types of biomass sources cannot be used for energy production due to legislation – including processing residues, thin logs from forestry works, imported biomass. Bureaucracy stands against transporting traceably, using the SUMAL system, plant biomass from parks and lawns, agriculture, fruit trees pruning, energetic cultures etc.

The result is a contraction of the offer and an increased competition on the meagre resource, that is also claimed by the board producing industry. For pellets and briquettes the resource is so scarce that many production facilities simply shut down.

At the national level, a further pressure comes from a normative blocking of forest management plans until environmental assessments are complete, as well as SUMAL-induced difficulties in appraising wood mass coming from smaller properties or from outside the forestry fund. All these obstacles are extracting resource from the market and creating artificial deficits.