Former UNFCC chief casts further doubt on wood bioenergy subsidies

An ill wind? When renewable energy is not renewable

Adding his voice to a growing chorus of scientific concerns that wood bioenergy burning worsens rather than resolves climate change, highly respected former UNFCC Vice Chairman of Jean-Pascal van Ypersele has issued a clear statement:

“To subsidise an activity that has negative consequences for the climate and the environment is totally contradictory with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the goals of the conference (COP26) due to take place in Glasgow at the end of the year.”

Coming in the wake of an open letter signed by 500 scientists that delivered the same message, Professor van Ypersele’s statement puts further pressure on those in the EC who seek to dilute anticipated reforms to RED II, the EU Renewable Energy Directive that has so far sustained this massively wasteful, environmentally destructive and unhealthy practice. 

An immediate target for Professor van Ypersele and the 500 scientists is the UK government:

“We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy… To meet future net zero-emission goals your government should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them.” 

Targeting DRAX 

Professor Ypersele’s comments are aimed in particular at DRAX power station in North East England. 

This centerpiece of the UK government’s green energy strategy is the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country and the largest wood burning unit in the world, consuming far more than total UK timber production to produce 11% of the country’s so-called renewable power at a subsidy cost of £2.1 million per day (BiofuelWatch, 2019). 

The DRAX commercial energy complex survives and thrives having switched from coal even though burning, particularly of imported US wood pellets, emits higher levels of CO2 than the coal it replaces.  

Duncan Brack former adviser at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change between 2010 and 2012, and author of the 2017 Royal Institute of International Affairs report, confirms:

“If you did include emissions from burning biomass we’d be making much slower progress towards net zero than some people tend to think. And that’s because we’re importing biomass from overseas and …. the problem is sort of shunted off to other countries ….  that’s not right.”

Time for the UK government to come clean

It’s time the UK government came clean about its green energy policy” said Wild Europe’s Toby Aykroyd. 

In the run-up to COP26 at Glasgow the eyes of the world are on the integrity of the UK’s climate change policies. We’ve already seen one unfortunate divergence in the last month – with a brand new coal mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria initially given the go ahead, only to be put “on hold” (until after COP26?).

If the government is serious about halting climate change, and there is full belief in the sincerity of its approach, it has a golden opportunity to set a global example by banning all further subsidies for wood bioenergy, and redirecting them towards effective means of mitigating climate change:

  • Genuine forms of renewable energy: offshore wind, solar, marine, geothermal together with appropriate infrastructure
  • Protection and restoration of carbon absorbent forest and wetland ecosystems: supporting Rewilding Britain’s well-costed “Rewilding vs Climate Breakdown” report, and the EU Biodiversity Strategy’s targets for strict protection of 10% of terrestrial surface
  • Demand suppression: improved recycling, insulation, emission reducing technology