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Press Release: New report shows how biomass burning devastates forests

Contact: Linde Zuidema + 32472955220

Mark Olden + 447973 884718

New report shows how biomass burning devastates forests

(Brussels) November 10, 2015 – Europe’s once peaceful forests are being invaded in the name of green energy, according to a new report for the forest NGO Fern by acclaimed writer Fred Pearce.

The report, Up in Flames - How biomass burning wrecks Europe’s forests, reveals how forests across Europe are being pillaged and their wood used for energy because of European Union policies for promoting renewable electricity and heating with the aim to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The Commission is currently working on proposals for a post 2020 renewable energy policy and a sustainable biomass policy, that are both expected to come out in 2016.

Almost half of wood harvested in the EU is now used for energy, while 60 per cent of the renewable energy is generated by biomass burning for electricity and heating. It supplies about five per cent of EU energy needs.  Industry investors say that if the EU’s 2020 renewable energy targets are to be met, Europe will need between seven and 16 million hectares of energy crops.

The report focuses on a number of forests under threat by this push for bioenergy, which is being fueled by huge subsidies by the EU as well as Member States.

  • In Poloniny Park in eastern Slovakia, clear-cutting of beech forests is being driven by demand for biomass to generate electricity. The park, which borders Ukraine and Poland, has the highest concentration of old-growth forests in the country. But logging is legal there and in Slovakia’s other national parks. There are now a dozen power and heating plants burning biomass in the country, but more are expected.
  • In southern France, the conversion of a coal-burning power plant in Gardanne near Marseilles to biomass has hit massive local opposition because of plans to source wood from the Cevennes mountains, famous for their sweet chestnuts. Taking fright, the government is pushing the operator, E.ON, to buy foreign timber instead. The feedstock supply is financed by the 1.4 billion euros of subsidies that the plant will receive over the next 20 years.
  • One of the most threatened forest regions is the Carpathian mountains, which contain Europe’s largest surviving area of old-growth forests. These forests are exceptionally rich in biodiversity and home to half of the continent’s brown bears, wolves and lynx outside Russia. In Romania, the Environmental Investigation Agency, an international environment group, last month published a detailed investigation of the timber supplies to the Austrian-owned company Holzindustrie Schweighofer, which exports Romanian timber pellets to Austria and Germany for biomass burning. The EIA accused the company of being “the single biggest driver of illegal logging in the country over the past decade” – something the company robustly denies.
  • The threat is not just to Europe’s forests.  In 2016, one of Europe’s largest power stations, Drax in Britain, will import up to seven million cubic metres of wood pellets made from forests in the south-eastern states of the USA, as well as Canada and Brazil.  The company says the forests will be replanted.  But US environmental campaigners say Drax, the biggest biomass-burning power plant in the world and responsible for 60 per cent of all US wood pellet exports, is triggering intensified logging across the Deep South.

”Post-2020 climate and energy policies should divert from subsidising the incineration of wood that is directly sourced from the forest. Current practices lead to irreversible impacts on forests and the climate – the direct opposite of what the EU’s renewables policy aimed to accomplish.” said Linde Zuidema, bioenergy campaigner at Fern.

She added: “The EU must recognise wood is a not an infinite resource and that European forests cannot meet the growing demands. Further support for forestry biomass will lead to significant trade-offs with other functions forests have, such as biodiversity protection, climate change mitigation and water-and soil protection. It should focus on measures to reduce energy demands, rather than promoting the incineration of wood, a resource that from a climate perspective can be used much more effectively to substitute carbon-intensive materials in a growing bio-economy.”

Last month, Fern published a report which urged the EU to halt subsidies for forest biomass used for energy, given the devastating impact it was having on forests and the fact that it undermined the EU’s aims of sustainability and cutting carbon emissions.

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