Concern expressed over EC consultation on climate change target

Areal view of Romanian logged landscape
Romania’s new landscape. What message does EU wood bioenergy policy send to Bolsonaro about the Amazon rainforest?
(Andrei Ciurcanu, Agent Green)

A collective representation organized by Wild Europe in partnership with Birdlife International, expresses widely held concerns that the current EC consultation on the 2030 climate targets is misleading, and could end up undermining the mitigation of climate change.

It has been signed by 49 organisations across Europe in little over 48 hours.

The EC consultation questionnaire, which aims to collate opinion for developing energy and climate policies, effectively encourages agreement to more ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reduction in 2030 with greater use of renewable energy to achieve these. 

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New legal structure for long-term protection

The transformative effect of a 150 year protection lease? 

A mechanism is being developed to offer private owners the opportunity to protect wild or wilderness areas on their land effectively ‘in perpetuity’.

The initiative has been created by a partnership between Wild Europe and the Lifescape Project conservation charity in tandem with international law firm Clifford Chance LLP.

Known as “The Legal Mechanism”, this involves legal owners granting a guardian charity the right to enforce ecological protections over the land for 150 years or more, whilst retaining effective ownership of the land for themselves and their descendants, using a leasehold structure. The leases would contain covenants stipulating land use that gives full protection to ecosystems with their wildlife.

Based on well-established procedure in the ‘built’ property sector, the concept is now proven for legislatures in England, Wales and Scotland; a technical brochure has been produced and initial consultations are taking place with landowners. 

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Wild Europe input to Consultation on EU Climate Target

Wild Europe’s feedback on 15th April welcomed the more ambitious target of a 50%+ drop in the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 

However it warned that, if subsidies for wood biomass continue, this target would be at risk – as would the EU’s continuing credibility as a respected proponent of best environmental practice.

Payment of these subsidies is a burden on productive business and personal livelihoods. As economies slowly rebuild post COVID-19, proponents of wood bioenergy subsidy will not be lightly forgiven for supporting the wastage of scarce capital on an expensive myth of renewable energy that actually worsens the climate change it claims to mitigate.

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TEG report calls for sharp curb to wood biomass burning

An independent EU Technical Expert Group (TEG) report just published recommends that only residues, thinnings and stumps should qualify as wood bioenergy fuel, along with separate “advanced bioenergy” feedstocks under the new Sustainable Finance Taxonomy (see technical annex for feedstocks). 

This in turn will determine eligibility for “green investment” status, counting towards renewable energy targets and involving literally hundreds of billions of Euros.

The recommendation is in sharp contrast to the broad leeway given for “whole tree” wood use by the EU’s Renewable Directive II. 

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Wood energy schemes “a disaster” for climate change

A study published in London on 23rd February 2017 by the well respected Royal Institute of International Affairs warns that most schemes to generate “low carbon electricity” from wood burning are actually doing the opposite, with carbon emissions from wood pellets higher than coal and considerably higher than gas.

Calculations of net carbon savings have not been counting emissions from the actual wood burning, merely assuming that these are countered by the sequestration impact of new plantings – which effectively leaves a large gap.

Hot air for climate policy - logging for renewable energy in Poloniny National Park Photo Peter Sabo, WOLF Forest Protection MovementHot air for climate policy – logging for renewable energy in Poloniny National Park Photo Peter Sabo, WOLF Forest Protection Movement

The Study also casts further doubt on the feasibility of BECCS (Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage), aimed at removing carbon from the environment by large-scale tree felling together with use of energy crops and storage underground of resulting carbon emissions. “However, all of the studies that the IPCC surveyed assumed that the biomass was zero-carbon at the point of combustion, which … is not a valid assumption. In addition, the slow rate of deployment of carbon capture and storage technology, and the extremely large areas of land that would be required to supply the woody biomass feedstock needed in the BECCS scenarios render its future development at scale highly unlikely.

Urgent review of biomass policy

Written by Duncan Brack, a former Special Advisor to the UK Government, the Study calls for immediate review of subsidies for biomass, which now supplies 65% of renewable power in the EU on the back of generous subsidies.

With the EC currently proposing a new Directive on Renewable Energy (draft published 30th November), there are growing calls for reallocation of subsidy exclusively towards wood waste products where there is no extra harvesting and proven carbon savings.

Impacts on biodiversity and illegal logging

This urgency of this call is underlined by an investigation published in November 2016 by BirdLife International with Transport & Environment showing that bioenergy plants are burning whole trees from protected areas rather than using forest waste.

This includes biomass from logging in Poloniny National Park (Slovakia), and riverine forests around Emilia-Romagna (Italy) where tree removal was apparently disguised as flood mitigation.

In Slovakia alone, according to the investigation, there has been an increase in use of wood for bioenergy of over 70% in the last 10 years, impelled by EU Renewable Energy targets. Under current legislation, European bioenergy plants do not have to produce evidence that their wood products have been sustainably sourced.