The concept of “cascade use” or “cascading” of wood has risen to prominence in recent years in separate but related discussions within the European Union about renewable energy, the “bio-based” economy and the “circular” economy. Cascading is a complex concept, but put simply, it means that natural resources should be used and recycled for as long as possible, and allocated to the most valuable purposes possible at each stage. Translating this principle into policy and practice has proven difficult, however, not least because it is hard to define what constitutes a “valuable purpose”.

In the European Union in particular, there have been intense debates about whether and how the cascading principle should be incorporated into policy. The discussion has focused mainly on woody biomass and is tightly connected with ongoing debates over the role of wood-based bioenergy in future EU energy policy.

This discussion brief presents the conceptual origins of cascading; provides an overview of how cascading fits into ongoing EU policy debates; and reviews different policy options that have been discussed for implementation of cascading. It ends by highlighting key questions that need to be addressed to advance the current EU policy discussion on cascading. The brief expands on an analysis for IEA Bioenergy published last year.

Download the brief (PDF, 2.7MB)