Australia declassifies wood from natural forests as renewable energy

Saved from the incinerator – Australia’s natural heritage

On 15th December Australia became the first G20 nation to renounce natural forests as a legitimate feedstock for bioenergy. They will no longer qualify for subsidies through Large-Scale Generation Certificates.

It underlines the need for strict protection of remaining primary/old growth forest, coinciding with the latest report to demonstrate a much higher carbon carrying capacity of larger trees than previously calculated.

A challenge to European bioenergy policy

Australia’s decision poses a clear challenge to the forest bioenergy sector and its supporters in the Europe – both governments and the EC, as emerging reforms to the increasingly notorious Renewable Energy Directive II are accused of being limited and compromised. 

Next targets should include France, where domestic conversion from coal to co-firing with wood biomass is coupled by rapid expansion of overseas forest bioenergy, courtesy of Albioma which was removed from the Dow S&P Clean Energy Index in 2021 owing to high carbon emissions. 

There is even a derogation request from the French government, for rainforest in French Guyana to be used as a fuel source for the Arianne programme – the ultimate irony of stone age technology powering space age industry.

In the UK Drax, also removed from the Dow S&P Index in 2021, continues to receive around 1 billion Euro per year in subsidies, while the government now faces the colossally expensive charms of BECCS – promising a “carbon negative” outcome from inclusion of wood bioenergy emissions in carbon capture and storage (CCS). 

Growth of a destructive paradox

Emissions from wood burning are higher than the fossil fuels – even coal –  it is intended to replace – as confirmed yet again, during the November 2022 UK Parliament Audit Committee hearings on bioenergy. They thus worsen climate change.

The expansion of the wood bioenergy sector is based on an accounting quirks that does not recognise emissions in energy producer countries, thus qualifying for subsidies, ostensibly to help reach EU 2030 and 2050 emission and climate change targets – whilst in reality making these harder to achieve.

Despite this damaging paradox, the sector continues to expand rapidly, as can be seen in the graphs below. 

In 2017 global demand for industrial wood pellets exceeded 14 m tons. By 2027, it is expected to exceed 36 m tons

Wood bioenergy now accounts for 60% of renewables in Europe, where up to 15 billion Euro per year of taxpayer and consumer money is effectively spent on worsening climate change and destruction of biodiversity rich forests, further reducing global carbon storage.

In the EU, limited progress is being made in reforms to the Renewable Energy Directive II with its subsidies for forest bioenergy. All eyes meanwhile are on the EU to ensure the ‘strict protection’ of old growth forests cited in its Biodiversity Strategy does equate to complete non-extraction.