Shadow on future of bioenergy as Drax’s own advisors deny its carbon neutrality

DRAX Board Chairman prepares to field questions at its AGM

In statements which have dire implications for the future of the forest bioenergy industry, Drax Corporation’s own Advisory Board has told it to stop calling biomass ‘carbon neutral’. This warning comes amid a rising chorus of concern about the impact of the industry from scientists, politicians and investors alongside environmental NGOs.

Chaired by former UK chief scientific adviser Professor Sir John Beddington, the Advisory Board says Drax must “move away from saying ‘carbon stocks are increasing/stable’ and stating biomass is carbon neutral”, and “reassess its criteria for determining carbon neutrality”.

Meanwhile when questioned by Toby Aykroyd of Wild Europe at Drax’s Annual General Meeting on 26th April, its Chairman Philip Cox confirmed that Drax had not been reinstated following its expulsion in 2021 from the Dow S&P Clean Energy Index – which is compiled for investors – because of its high carbon emissions from wood burning. This reason was reaffirmed following a Financial Times newsletter enquiry in August 2022.

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The Vjosa becomes Europe’s first Wild River National Park

The meandering Vjosa with its wilding hinterland

The Vjosa in Albania, one of Europe’s last free-flowing natural rivers, was declared a national park by the government on 22nd March.

Its tributaries and a variety of ecosystems harbouring some 1,100 species including 15 under global threat, will be included in a second phase alongside creation of a trans-boundary park with Greece where it is known as the river Aoos.

This epic event brings protection to the 400 klm long watercourse, which originates in the Pindus Mountains of Greece, flowing to the Adriatic coast. Pollution, waste management and deforestation will be more closely addressed, while valuable tourism benefits can be delivered to local communities in one of Europe’s poorer areas.

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New findings accentuate value of old growth forest in addressing climate change

The bigger the better… natural solutions addressing climate change

A UK study published in December 2022 suggests carbon volume in larger trees is likely to be much higher than previously estimated. 

This potentially has huge implications for the value of forests, old growth in particular, for mitigating climate change – and underlines a correspondingly much greater cost of their destruction.

The indepth study is based on 3D terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), a remote sensing technique that accurately captures the volume and mass of carbon from pulse emissions. This methodology supplants more sketchy estimates currently based on allometric models from calculation of tree diameter, which assume size and mass grow at a steady rate; these are deemed more suitable for trees less than 50 cm diameter.

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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.

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COP15 – Key aims agreed for global conservation. Now for the implementation

The Montreal-Kunming conference achieved laudable agreement on a range of key objectives for the Global Biodiversity Framework on 19th December. They follow on from the targets set in Aichi for 2011-2020.

The emphasis now is on ensuring achievement – with 2030 as the imminent target date, aligned to Paris Agreement timelines. Strategies from the EU for biodiversity and forests could provide useful models for the route ahead.

Meanwhile Wild Europe made useful progress with its allies, with considerable support gained for a Moratorium on primary forest logging, and for the importance of ‘natural ecosystems’ with ‘high integrity’ – the core of our agenda.

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Ambitious Restoration Strategy outlined at SERE symposium

Key proposals for a Restoration Strategy based were laid out in a symposium held at the Society for Ecological Restoration (SERE, Europe Chapter) in Alicante on 9th September.

Titled “Large scale rewilding across Europe: overcoming challenges to achieve a historic opportunity“, the symposium suggested ambitious objectives and called for extensive reforms to achieve these.

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End Carbon Fuels – a unified approach for climate campaigners

Wood burning Drax – a renewable energy image bathed in natural greenness

Wild Europe is promoting closer coordination between networks campaigning to abolish fossil fuels and those seeking to end commercial scale forest bioenergy.

This was the focus of a webinar co-hosted with Europe Beyond Coal on 19th October, featuring 29 organisations from both networks, and agreement reached on the mutual benefit of closer links.  

There is a paradox whereby much-needed success in phasing out fossil fuels can, if these are replaced by forest biomass burning, worsen climate change.

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Untrodden Mountains Project logo

Greece leads the way to roadless protection

Construction or extension of roads and other ‘artificial interventions’ has been banned across large areas in an Untrodden Mountains initiative announced by Prime Minister Kryiakos Mitsotakis. 

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Massive IUCN support for strict forest protection

By a landslide 674 votes, with only 1 against, IUCN members supported Resolution 127, calling for strict protection of primary/old growth forest in Europe. 

Furthermore this protection is based on prohibition of timber extraction – and was backed by 93 Category A members, which includes governments. 

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Wild Europe proposes new approaches in the wood bioenergy campaign

The cost of wood burning for bioenergy continues to climb steeply.

Based on EUROSTAT solid fuel burning in the EU has increased by 260% since 1990 (Mary Booth’s presentation in Bratislava, November 2019)

A succession of scientific reviews has clearly demonstrated that a practice which now utilises nearly 50% of European timber output is not carbon neutral. It worsens climate change while destroying forest biodiversity, is notoriously energy-inefficient and wastes literally billions of euro annually in subsidies.

In Sound Science for Forests and Bioenergy, a newly released consultation document following its recent conference in Bratislava, Wild Europe proposes new approaches and alliances for tackling this situation. It calls in particular for wider engagement between conservationists, consumer groups, taxpayer associations and investment advisors.

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Forestry leaders confirm their support for old growth forest

Europe’s largest forestry associations support old growth forest Attribution: European Union

Clear support for the concept and value of old growth forest was expressed by leaders of the European forestry sector at the seminal EU International Conference on Forests for Biodiversity and Climate Change in Brussels.

Hubert de Schorlemer President of the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF) – in grey suit – confirmed “If the small forests we still have which are really really old, we don’t afford to cut them down, no that’s clear“

Reinhardt Nerf, President of the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR) – in green jacket – stated “We see the very old forest as a focus of biodiversity and we take it out of timber usage” 

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