Renewable energy targets in the European Union (EU) have raised the demand for timber and are expected to increase dependence on imports. However, EU timber consumption levels are already disproportionally high compared to the rest of the world. The question is, how much timber is available for the EU to sustainably harvest and import, in particular considering sustainable forest management practices, a safe operating space for land-system change, and the global distribution of “common good” resources. This article approaches this question from a supply angle to develop a reference value range for the current as well as future sustainable supply of timber at the EU-27 and global levels. For current supply estimates, national-level data on forest area available for wood supply, productivity in that area, as well as the rate available for harvest were collected and aggregated into three potential supply scenarios. For future supply estimates, a safe operating space scenario halting land use change, a sensitivity analysis, and a literature review were performed. To provide both a comparison of global versus EU sustainable supply capacities and to develop a benchmark toward evaluating and comparing levels of consumption to sustainable supply capacities, per capita calculations were made. Results revealed that the per capita sustainable supply potential of EU forests is estimated to be around three times higher than the global average in 2050. Whether a global or EU reference value is more appropriate for EU policy orientation, considering both strengthened economic and cultural ties to the forest in forest-rich countries as well as the need to prevent problem shifting associated with exporting land demands abroad, is discussed. Further research is needed to strengthen and harmonize data, improve methods for modeling future scenarios and incorporate interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder perspectives toward the development of robust and politically relevant reference values for sustainable consumption levels.
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