The European Union relies heavily on burning forest biomass to achieve its renewable energy targets. This destructive burning has doubled since the early 2000s and has already surpassed projected levels. Half of all harvested wood is now burnt for energy, a large share of which comes directly from the forest. This puts huge additional pressure on forests.
This new Trinomics study, commissioned by Fern, shows that EU Member States plan to further increase their reliance on bioenergy over the next 10 years, but that they are largely failing to explain how and where they will source this biomass, or what impact this will have on the climate, air pollution or biodiversity. It compiles and analyses information provided in Member States’ National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) on the use of solid biomass for renewable energy between 2021-2030.
- Member States plan an overall increase in the use of biomass for bioenergy – 18 per cent for power and 10 per cent for heating. This is likely to be an underestimate, since they do not take into account the increased EU target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas reductions by 2030.
- Renewable energy subsidies for biomass have significantly increased since 2009. Four countries (Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia and Ireland) increased their bioenergy subsidies more than tenfold between 2008 and 2018, while Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia and France also considerably increased their bioenergy subsidies.
- Bioenergy will still be the dominant (70 per cent) source of renewable heat in 2030, with little growth potential for other heating technologies such as heat pumps or geo or solar thermal heating in most countries.
- Despite their obligations, most Member States are not transparent about the likely impact of increased wood burning: the vast majority of them fail to provide sufficient information on the potential negative effects on forests’ ability to sequester carbon-dioxide.
Current NECPs envisaged a 40 per cent emission reduction target. Now that the EU has pledged to increase its climate targets and renewable energy ambition, Member States’ reliance on bioenergy will be even greater. Lessons from the past decade indicate this will put further pressure on EU forests.
If the EU is serious about becoming carbon neutral by 2050, it needs to keep its addiction to bioenergy in check. The EU Commission is currently reviewing the LULUCF Regulation, the Renewable Energy Directive (REDII) and the Governance Regulation. We call on the Commission to use this opportunity to end subsidies for the burning of forest biomass.