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Bioenergy: Briefing note

How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals? Focus on forests

In September 2015, world governments adopted an Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. The aims are noble and daunting – end all forms of poverty, fight inequality, address climate change, and ensure that no one is left behind. This leaflet explains why these goals cannot be met without changes to EU forest policy.

It is not enough to see forests as an ‘environment-only’ issue. Protecting forests and the communities that defend them is just as much about poverty eradication, food security, climate change, social justice and sustainable consumption and production patterns. Any EU response to the SDGs must therefore include the protection of forests and the recognition and promotion of the rights of those who live in them.

PDF iconFocus on forests.pdf401.04 KB

Burning trees for energy is no solution to climate change

This briefing note outlines why using wood to produce renewable electricity and heat can increase carbon dioxide emissions. It explains what is wrong with the assumption that all biomass use for energy is ‘carbon-neutral’ and why the increasing scale at which biomass is used can reduce forests’ ability to be a sink for carbon.

The problem is heightened because existing policy tools such as Sustainable Forest Management and LULUCF accounting don’t work to ensure bioenergy use truly reduces emissions.

The briefing concludes with recommendations for how the EU can achieve a successful sustainability policy for bioenergy.

PDF iconclimate and bioenergy final.pdf751.84 KB

A new sustainable bioenergy policy

The European Commission has announced that it will propose a new and improved bioenergy sustainability policy for the use of biomass in heating, electricity and transport as part of its Climate and Energy Package for 2030.

This report explains why EU bioenergy policy needs safeguards which check that bioenergy is truly low carbon, resource efficient and avoids negative consequences on biodiversity, soil, water, land use and people. It includes proposals for how to regulate bioenergy production and use in the EU’s renewable energy policy framework 2020 – 2030.

Why LULUCF cannot ensure that bioenergy reduces emissions

The European Commission is currently reviewing the sustainability of uses and sources of bioenergy for the period after 2020. They will also propose a new policy on how to include the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector in the EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework. This briefing note presents the problems of relying on LULUCF to ensure bioenergy reduces carbon emissions. It shows that the assumption that emissions from biomass harvests are fully accounted for in the LULUCF sector comes with large caveats. More importantly, the incentives and burden of proof should be put on the energy producer, rather than on the land sector.

The coalition recommends that:

  • the EU strengthens LULUCF policy, and adopts additional policy measures to ensure that bioenergy delivers robust greenhouse gas emission savings
  • the EU introduces a cap on the amount of bioenergy that can be counted towards 2030 renewable energy and climate targets
  • the EU legislates against the use of high risk biomass sources and introduces a minimum threshold for the efficiency of energy production systems

Bioenergy briefing note 1: the limited availability of wood for energy

This is the first of a series of briefings Fern is producing on bioenergy. This briefing shows how little forest biomass is available, and proposes an EU strategy for a more efficient use of the scarce wood resource.

The European Union (EU)’s renewable energy policy aims to cut carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with sustainable alternatives, and one of its main tools is the promotion of bioenergy. Heating and electricity produced with biomass accounts for more than half of the renewable energy produced in the EU.

Three-quarters of this biomass is ‘woody biomass’, harvested directly from forests. If Member States were to use biomass according to their renewable energy plans, by 2020 the amount of wood used for energy alone would be equivalent to today’s total EU wood harvest.

The EU is currently considering how to meet its 2030 renewable energy target, and the European Commission is expected to propose new policies for renewable energy and sustainable biomass early in 2017. This will be welcome, as continuing with the EU’s current renewable energy policy would likely lead to the further loss of forests and biodiversity, without mitigating climate change effectively.

This series of briefings argues that, first, the new EU policies for renewable energy should recognise that there is not enough wood available for a sharp increase in the use of biomass; and second, that using woody biomass does not necessarily reduce carbon emissions. The EU should therefore not allow subsidies for the use of forest biomass after 2020.


The most crucial challenges facing Europe’s forests

This short briefing outlines BirdLife, European Environmental Bureau and FERN recommendations for the Parliament’s own initiative report on the EU Forest Strategy.

Driving to destruction

This study analyses the likely impacts on land use and greenhouse gas emissions of biofuel use by 2020, as projected in recently published National Renewable Energy Action Plans in 23 EU member states. The analysis includes evidence on size and impacts of ‘indirect land use change’ (ILUC) resulting from biofuel use.

It is the most comprehensive study to date to quantify these eff ects. The study reveals that the EU’s plans for biofuels will result in the conversion of up to 69 000 square kilometres (km2) of land to agricultural use due to ILUC. This will potentially put forests, other natural ecosystems, and poor communities at risk. Land conversion on such a scale will lead to the release of carbon emissions from vegetation and soil, making biofuels more damaging to the climate than the fossil fuels they are designed to replace.

PDF iconILUC-NAPs Briefing.pdf379.25 KB


Most recent publications

A chance to salvage the EU’s failing bioenergy policy

The draft report released on June 7 on bioenergy sustainability criteria by Environmental committee

One step forward, two steps back for EU on climate and forests

Today, the European Parliament took one step forward and two steps back for the climate and forests.

Read the full Press Release

On a positive front, the Environment Committee voted to strengthen the EU’s climate target for the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) - which covers the agriculture, waste, buildings and transport sectors - by reducing the amount of ‘LULUCF offsets’ they had access to by 90 million tons of CO2.

Ensuring bioenergy comes clean in the Clean Energy Package - Joint Statement

European climate and energy policies are built on the myth that all bioenergy - being a renewable energy source - is good for the climate and good for the environment.

Celebrating forests by burning them is the wrong road, say 46 NGOs

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has chosen to use the International Day of Forests 2017 to promote the use of wood for energy, calling forests “nature’s power house”. Forests are precious ecosystems and well worth of celebrating, but the chosen theme of the day is unfortunate as growing demand for wood based bioenergy has serious negative impacts on environment, local communities, people’s health, the climate and, of course, our forests.

Biofuels are not a way to decarbonise aviation

This letter to Commissioner Bulc explains why NGOs are concerned about his statement that “Biofuels are the ‘best choice’ at this point to start to decarbonize the industry”. Relying on large-scale biofuel cultivation leads to more environmental damage. The only way Europe’s aviation policy can help meet Paris Agreement goals is to focus on reducing demand.

European Commission grants Drax a license to destroy forests at public’s expense

The UK’s biggest power station Drax can continue destroying forests and releasing greenhouse gas emissions at the taxpayer’s expense, after the European Commission today approved millions of pounds of additional UK renewable energy subsidies to the energy company for burning wood instead of coal.

This press release from five NGOs, including Fern, who disagree with the decision.

PDF iconDrax PR386.69 KB