Pulp and Paper

More efforts needed
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In this report

Final energy use in pulp and paper grew by an average 0.3% annually during 2000-18, while paper and paperboard output increased 1.4% annually. In the SDS, energy use declines 0.6% per year to 2030 but annual paper and paperboard production expands 1.2%. This situation will necessitate greater recycling, as recycled production requires considerably less energy. Using a higher share of bioenergy and adopting waste heat recovery technologies will also be important.

Final energy demand in pulp and paper in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2000-2030

Tracking progress

While global paper and paperboard output increased by over 25% between 2000 and 2018, the sector’s global energy use rose by only about 6%, indicating a decoupling of energy use from production.

The share of recovered fibre in total fibre furnish (the mix of fibres used in paper production) increased by about ten percentage points during 2000‑10 to reach just over 50% of production, and since then has remained relatively flat, with a small decline in 2018. Producing more paper from recycled sources helps reduce the energy intensity of the paper industry.

However, structural effects – such as shifts in product mixes or regions of production – can also influence energy use, and data quality issues make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about energy intensity trends.

While paper and paperboard production is expected to increase by 1.2% annually, energy use in the sector needs to decline 0.6% per year to get on track with the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) by 2030. The share of recovered fibre in total fibre furnish expands to over 60% by 2030 in the SDS.

Increasing the use of bioenergy and alternative fuels – which currently account for about 30% of total energy use in the sector, mainly owing to the use of pulp and paper by-products such as black liquor – will also be important in getting on track with the SDS.

As demand for paper and paperboard dictates production levels, it is an important determinant of energy consumption and CO2 emissions. In 2018, total paper and paperboard production declined by 1.9%, compared with steady growth at an average annual rate of 0.8% during 2010‑17.

Underlying this is an ongoing trend of declining newsprint, writing and printing paper production due to digitalisation (annual drops of 2.4% during 2010-17 and 3.9% in 2018). Production of other paper grades such as wrapping, packaging, household and sanitary paper increased over 2010-17 (for combined annual increases of 2.3% per year), while in 2018 household and sanitary paper manufacturing continued to increase (by 1.3%) but wrapping and packaging decreased slightly (by 1.3%).

Total paper and paperboard demand is expected to continue rising to 2030 in the SDS, as lower printing-related paper requirements (due to digitalisation) are outweighed by more need for packaging and sanitary paper as a result of population and economic growth. Efforts to curb demand and increase recycling can therefore help reduce growth in energy intensity and emissions.

Global paper and paperboard production in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2010-2030


Raising the energy efficiency of pulp and paper production is one of the key strategies to decarbonise the sector.

Increasing the share of production from recovered fibre could considerably reduce energy use. To this end, improving recycling channels can help increase the collection of paper products for recycling. Governments can also implement landfill and waste collection fees that encourage greater recycling of household and commercial paper waste.

Energy efficiency can also be improved through higher on-site waste heat recovery and co‑generation. The speed and scale of deploying these technologies can be raised through collaborative efforts by industry, public sector and research partners to share best practices on state-of-the-art technologies and develop plant-level action plans.

Furthermore, ensuring efficient equipment operations and maintenance will help guarantee optimal energy performance. This can be reinforced by implementing energy management systems. 

The paper industry should increasingly recover and use pulp and paper production by-products such as black liquor to displace a portion of fossil fuel use.

Pursuing the use of other renewable energy sources is also important, particularly for recycled production, for which natural gas tends to be employed because biomass by-products are not readily available. Other options include producing low-energy heat from heat pumps, solar thermal energy or biogas.

Increased alternative fuels use can be facilitated by the sharing of best practices among pulp and paper producers and setting industry-wide targets for alternative fuel use.

Policy makers can promote CO2 emissions reduction efforts by adopting mandatory reduction policies, such as a gradually rising carbon price or tradeable industry performance standards that require the average CO2 intensity for the production of each key material to decline across the economy, and that permit regulated entities to trade compliance credits.

Adopting these policies at lower stringencies in the short term (i.e. within the next three to five years) will provide an early market signal, enabling industries to prepare and adapt as stringency increases over time. It can also help reduce the costs of low-carbon production methods, softening the impact on pulp and paper prices in the long term.

Ideally, these policies would be applied globally at similar strengths. Since pulp and paper products are highly traded, measures will be needed to help ensure a level playing field if the strength of policy efforts differs from one region to another. Possibilities include adopting border carbon adjustments or the free allocation of allowances for emissions below a targeted benchmark in an emissions trading system.

Governments can extend the reach of their efforts by partaking in multilateral forums to facilitate low-carbon technology transfer and to encourage other countries to also adopt mandatory CO2 emissions policies.

Improving the collection, transparency and accessibility of energy performance and CO2 emissions statistics on the pulp and paper subsector would facilitate research, regulatory and monitoring efforts (including, for example, multi-country performance benchmarking assessments). 

Better data on paper recycling capacity and inputs are particularly needed, as are separated data for pulp and for paper production. Since the energy intensity of the pulp industry differs considerably from that of paper, it is difficult to evaluate and compare performance without separate energy data for each.

Industry participation and government co‑ordination will both be important to improve data collection and reporting.


External reviewers: Nicola Rega (Cepi).

  1. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) (2020), Forest Production and Trade (FAOSTAT database), http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/FO.

  2. RISI (2016), Paper Mills Assets (database), https://www.risiinfo.com/service/mill-data-costs/asset-database/.