Wild Europe proposes new approaches in the wood bioenergy campaign

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

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.

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

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.

“These other interests may not share the same environmental objectives” said Toby Aykroyd, Wild Europe coordinator “but they have a duty of care to clients and members to ensure that their money is not misspent. By making common cause, we can greatly strengthen our impact on policy makers and corporate shareholders who are slow to heed scientific conclusions in the face of heavy lobbying by bioenergy producers and parts of the forestry sector.”

This alliance should also extend where feasible to other genuinely effective renewable energy sources currently missing out on subsidies and investment diverted into wood bioenergy production.

Additionally, close assessment is needed of grounds for representation to the European Consumer Organisation (on energy efficiency), and the EU Internal Audit Service (taxation subsidies) and the EU Court of Auditors.

Objectives of the initiative

US hardwood forests going up the chimney at the UK’s Drax power station (Paul Glazzard, geograph.org.uk)

The objectives of Sound Science for Forests and Bioenergy include:

  • Cessation of all subsidies, through taxpayer support or consumer ‘green pricing’ premiums, for wood burning as bioenergy 
  • Refutation of wood burning as being carbon neutral and an appropriate means of addressing climate change
  • Redirection of investment into emission reduction, energy saving and effective renewable energy sources (wind, solar, marine) where these do not impact on wild or protected areas
  • Promotion of key ‘nature-based solutions’ such as protection and restoration of existing habitats: particularly natural, old growth/primary forest, peatlands and wetlands with proven capacity for high carbon storage  
  • General reallocation of scarce taxpayer, consumer and investor resources into areas of positive productivity – an increasingly important issue with the growing challenges facing societal health and the international economy

How much more proof is needed?

The Sound Science for Forests and Bioenergy initiative seeks to tackle the paradox whereby successive waves of scientific evidence of the negative consequences of wood burning for bioenergy are so far having relatively little impact on massive and rapidly growing wood fuel consumption in Europe, and globally.

…. and a source for the timber – North Carolina wetland forest (Dogwood Alliance)

EU Technical Expert Group (TEG) March 2020 Report on Sustainable Finance Taxonomy 

NRDC November 2019 Report Burnout: EU clean energy subsidies lead to forest destruction

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

Forestry Commission Research UK May 2018 “Carbon impacts of biomass consumption in the EU’’report for the European Climate Foundation. 

A collective letter to the EU Parliament signed by 780 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’.”

The European Academies of Science Advisory Council (EASAC) May 2017 Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union’s Forests

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

Burning trees isn’t green.

It aggravates climate change, destroys biodiversity, is energy-inefficient and misspends billions of euro annually in subsidies.

It undermines all key elements of the EU’s Green Deal (see separate article).

It is spreading globally to impact a widening range of forests, including ecologically rich hardwood habitats.

For more information, please contact: info@wildeurope.org