Global Forest Footprints of Household Consumption

  • Y (Yentl) Staelens

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Consumption and other human activities are causing large forest losses, threatening global forest biodiversity and ecosystem services. Through globalized supply chains, timber harvests and forestland use became embodied in the consumption of goods and services. Concurrently, spatial separations between consumption and production increased, causing global displacements of impacts. A renewed striving towards expanding the bioeconomy furthermore risks exacerbating global impacts on forests.
This study aims to provide insights into the global environmental pressures exerted upon forests through timber and forestland embodied in nations’ household consumption, presenting results which can inform policy towards a sustainable bioeconomy. For this purpose, forest footprints of global household consumption were analyzed using EXIOBASE 3.8 for multi-regional input-output analysis. This database covers 200 product categories and 49 regions, including the EU, major economies and 5 Rest of World (RoW) regions over the period 1995 to 2011.
Contrary to the growing biomass and mineral footprints, the global household timber footprint decreased by 4% to 2158 Mm3, while the forestland footprint decreased by 8% to 1327 Mha. This is mainly driven by reductions in fuelwood consumption for shelter products, as both consumption of all other product categories and industrial roundwood use increased. Fuelwood drives 52% of the global footprint, mainly in lower-income countries.
RoW Africa, China, USA, Brazil and Russia cause 57% of the global household timber footprint (average 0.58 m3/cap). Russia, RoW Africa, RoW America, China and Brazil cause 64% of the global household forestland footprint (average 0.3 ha/cap). Although especially per capita timber footprint size is associated with income (e.g. Scandinavia, Canada, Austria), large consumers such as Russia and Brazil stress additional importance of resource availability and lifestyles. Differences between both footprints signal varying timber productivity.
Net exporters of forest footprints are generally abundant in forest resources (e.g. Canada, Sweden, RoW Africa, Russia), while net importers are industrialized or emerging economies (e.g. Japan, USA, Germany, India, China). Most regions increased their displacements abroad, with average displacements of 48% for timber and 52% for forestland footprints (both +10%), and the largest footprint displacements occurring in high-income regions. Within the EU, increased internal trade could partially explain these trends as the EU’s displacements strongly decreased (-44% timber, -40% forestland). Higher dependencies on foreign forestland suggest common outsourcing to less productive regions.
Ten products represent 79% of household timber and 82% of household forestland footprints, with little-processed wood products contributing the most. On average 48% (timber) to 49% (forestland) of the footprints were related to shelter products. While shelter shares decreased with income, especially manufactured products (15% average) and services shares (11% average) increased.
Compared to productivity figures, opportunities for woody bioeconomy growth seem limited. Particularly harvests in Brazil and Africa are likely unsustainable, but still embodied in household consumption. A fair bioeconomy requires continuous monitoring of the footprints, applying well-developed reference levels for sustainable consumption of global resources. In developing countries, access to modern energy and household appliances will be important, while in general increased cascading with material uses preceding energy recovery seems key to reducing global impacts on forests.
Date of Award6 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGibran Vita Garza (Examiner) & Jean Hugé (Co-assessor)

Master's Degree

  • Master Environmental Sciences

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