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Assessing the Sustainability of EU Timber Consumption Trends: Comparing Consumption Scenarios with a Safe Operating Space Scenario for Global and EU Timber Supply
The growing demand for wood to meet EU renewable energy targets has increasingly come under scrutiny for potentially increasing EU import dependence and inducing land use change abroad, with associated impacts on the climate and biodiversity. This article builds on research accounting for levels of primary timber consumption—e.g., toward forest footprints—and developing reference values for benchmarking sustainability—e.g., toward land use targets—in order to improve systemic monitoring of timber and forest use. Specifically, it looks at future trends to assess how current EU policy may impact forests at an EU and global scale. Future demand scenarios are based on projections derived and adapted from the literature to depict developments under different scenario assumptions. Results reveal that by 2030, EU consumption levels on a per capita basis are estimated to be increasingly disproportionate compared to the rest of the world. EU consumption scenarios based on meeting around a 40% share of the EU renewable energy targets with timber would overshoot both the EU and global reference value range for sustainable supply capacities in 2030. Overall, findings support literature pointing to an increased risk of problem shifting relating to both how much and where timber needed for meeting renewable energy targets is sourced. It is argued that a sustainable level of timber consumption should be characterized by balance between supply (what the forest can provide on a sustainable basis) and demand (how much is used on a per capita basis, considering the concept of fair shares). To this end, future research should close data gaps, increase methodological robustness and address the socio-political legitimacy of the safe operating space concept towards targets in the future. A re-use of timber within the economy should be supported to increase supply options.