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The European charcoal trade

About half the wood extracted worldwide from forests is used as fuelwood to produce energy, about 17 percent is converted to charcoal (FAO 2017) which represents one of the least controlled/monitored segments of the European timber market. Although charcoal has a significant share on the European market of wood-based products it is not yet covered by the European Timber Regulations (EUTR), (EU) No 995/2010. For this project, a total of 150 charcoal consignments from eleven countries (Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Ukraine, Czech Republic, and Belgium) were examined and evaluated based on the 3D-reflected light microscopy technique. The high-resolution study indicates the proportion of different European timbers compared with that of timbers from subtropical and tropical regions. The share of subtropical and tropical species is surprisingly high with approximately 46% for material received from all countries studied, but far over 60% for Spain, Italy, Poland, and Belgium. The study shows that comparing the results for charcoal received from these countries there is an inversely proportional relation of certified products (FSC and PEFC) and products with timbers from subtropical or tropical origins. In the charcoal consignments from Switzerland, the share of timbers from subtropical or tropical origin is only 13.5%, whereas that of certified products is 60%. In material received from Spain, the proportion of timbers from subtropical or tropical regions is 67%, whereas that of certified products only 8%. A careful check of the declaration on the packaging, of the accompanying certificates, and the information on origin revealed alarming evidence: only 25% of the consignments examined provide information on the bags, e.g., with regard to the processed wood species; and well over half of such declarations were incorrect and/or incomplete. A trade flow analysis of EU member states was carried out to contribute to a better understanding of the relationships between international charcoal trade flows and the end products in European countries. This approach contributes to an essential understanding of charcoal transit in Europe and the results constitute a strong motive for the inclusion of charcoal in the respective annex to the EUTR.


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