Wood is a renewable material and a renewable source of energy provided that consumption does not exceed the forests’ capacities for self-regeneration. It is a resource that has been used since the dawn of mankind, but its use has risen sharply, with human beings now extracting 120 billion cubic feet (3.4 billion cubic meters) of wood from the world’s forests each year. A little more than half of all wood harvested serves as fuel, whether for heating or cooking purposes. In Africa, for example, wood and charcoal are by far the most important forms of energy consumed (a usage that corre?sponds to 89% of the wood harvested). Wood is thus at the global level our princi?pal source of renewable energy. But it is developed countries that use the most wood, in the form of building and furniture materials and paper.
Sustainable forest management is not a new idea. At a time when naval ships were still being built of wood, the state kept a watchful eye on the forests destined to furnish the material for their construction. With our consumption of forest resources constantly increasing, however, we need to develop new approaches to sustainable use. The best example of such an approach is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which was established in 1993 and promotes a system of forest management certification. This means that the consumer who purchases products bearing the FSC label knows that they have come from forests which have been responsibly managed in social, environmental, and economic terms. The chain of accountability stops with the user himself—a system that has proved pretty effective in this case. To date, more than 250 million acres (100 million hectares) of forest in seventy-nine countries have been certified, and annual sales of FSC-certified products amount to some 20 billion dollars. But this is actually less than a tenth of the global market, and a smaller share of the total than the traffic in illegally cut tropical woods, which probably account for half the market.
We could make more use of some of our secondary forests, such as those in western Europe, especially since burning them does not increase the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the wood could be used to advantage in place of other materialsóplastic and concrete, for example.