Consultation on EU 2030 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.

Wild Europe feedback on EC Roadmap: EU 2030 Climate Target Plan

Wild Europe warmly welcomes the more ambitious 2030 Climate Target plan to reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emission “for 2030 by at least 50% and towards 55%”. 

However, the EU and its Member States should recognise that the realistic implementation of such an ambitious target will be at risk if burning wood-based biomass for bioenergy remains considered as a renewable, carbon zero solution.

There has been a succession of scientific reports on the negative consequences of wood burning for bioenergy, including a clear warning from the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council in June 2018 against classifying forest biomass as a renewable, carbon neutral solution. 

They confirm that wood burning for bioenergy aggravates climate change, destroys biodiversity, is energy-inefficient and misspends billions of euro annually in taxpayer and consumer subsidies.

  • Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), February 2017, The Impacts of the Demand for Woody Biomass for Power and Heat on Climate Change and Forests
  • EASAC, May 2017, Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union’s Forests
  • A collective letter to the European Parliament signed by 772 scientists, January 2018: “Even if forests are allowed to regrow, using wood deliberately harvested for burning will increase carbon in the atmosphere and warming for decades to centuries as many studies have shown even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas. The reasons are fundamental and occur regardless of whether forest management is ‘sustainable’.”
  • Forestry Commission Research UK report for the European Climate Foundation, May 2018 “Carbon impacts of biomass consumption in the EU”
  • EASAC statement June 2018: The EU’s renewable energy ambitions: Bioenergy from forests is not always carbon neutral – and may even increase the EU’s carbon emissions 
  • NRDC, November 2019, Burnout: EU clean energy subsidies lead to forest destruction

Wood burning for bioenergy undermines all eight main elements of the EU’s Green Deal.

The impact of wood burning for bioenergy on the EU Green Deal 

Promoting wood bioenergy – despite its clear negative impacts – risks undermining the global credibility of the EU as a well-respected proponent of best environmental practice.

Major problems

There are three major problems with burning wood-based biomass for bioenergy:

1. Economic

  • The practice is energy inefficient and produces greater emissions per unit of energy than other means of generation – including coal and gas
  • Current subsidies supporting it divert investment from genuine renewable technologies, improved energy efficiency and better insulation – all of which make a positive contribution to mitigating climate change
  • 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.

2. Social – Health  

Studies have shown that high levels of pollution with fine particles is caused inside houses using wood stoves. This can create respiratory problems. External pollution is also worsened.

3. Environment

  • Climate change is worsened: wood burning is not carbon-neutral, the ‘pay-back’ period of offset from tree regrowth is far too long – many decades – to justify ignoring the emissions from burning 
  • Carbon storage: the main mitigation benefit of forests derives from the size and longevity of their ecosystem carbon stocks and not their annual rate of sequestration. Carbon stocks in primary forests are greater than in production forests even at harvest maturity. Felling forests, particularly old growth and primary, to mitigate climate change through increased sequestration is an unscientific fallacy
  • Biodiversity: logging wood for bioenergy, even merely removing deadwood, has a significant negative impact on biodiversity – degrading and destroying forest ecosystems and their dependent species

Key recommendations

  1. The Renewable Energy Directive should urgently be revised to exclude wood biomass as a renewable solution. If this step is taken, wood burning will not be eligible for public subsidies. These subsidies should be redirected to genuine renewable energy sources, improved energy use efficiency and insulation.
  2. LULUCF regulation must guarantee that forests carbon stocks in Europe increase in all EU member states. This can be achieved not only through sustainable forest management, but also – more cost-effectively – through strictly protecting and restoring at least 10% of Europe’s forests, with special attention to old growth/primary forests.