Burning wood for energy on an industrial-scale damages forests and the climate.  

Yet for more than a decade it has been embraced across the European Union as a means of fighting climate change. 

Since 2009, the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) has allowed EU Member States to reward energy companies burning wood, and to count the resulting energy towards their renewable energy targets.

Billions of Euros of taxpayer funded government support has driven companies to convert coal power stations to woody biomass burning ones and build thousands of new installations across the continent. Yet like their predecessors, these plants remaincarbon bombs’.

Today, the energy from wood burning still represents more than 40 per cent of the EU’s “renewable” energy production. 

The RED’s laudable aim of reducing fossil fuels, ignored the real-world consequences of burning millions more tonnes of wood. It only takes days to clear-cut and burn a forest, but centuries to regrow, and because there are no upper limits to the subsidies, the policy has increased the pressure to log forests in Europe and beyond. Wood pellets imports to Europe come from across the globe, in particular North America and previously, Russia. This undermines forests’ ability to capture carbon dioxide and thereby the EU’s own climate and biodiversity goals. Increased wood burning also adds harmful particles to the air we breathe. 

This policy has been disastrous for the climate, forests and people’s health and is the opposite of the just, low-carbon energy transition. These billions of Euros would be much better used helping citizens to insulate their homes, and warm them with less polluting solutions. Public money would be best deployed supporting foresters to better manage forests, and to turn away from the clear-cut-plantation model. This would make forests more resilient to the threats of the climate crisis.

What do Fern and our partners want? 

To achieve socially and environmentally friendly EU climate and energy policies, the EU must stop subsidising the burning of forest biomass and exclude bioenergy from counting towards renewable energy targets. 

What are we doing? 

Fern is helping coordinate individuals and organisations from around the world that are campaigning to reduce reliance on forest biomass for energy. Our strategy is simple: support NGOs and experts to battle corporate lobbyists and remove the market and government incentives for burning biomass, so as to reduce the overall amount of wood burned for energy to pre-2009 levels.

Although the autumn 2023 RED review did not solve the policy’s fundamental problems, it tightened the sustainability criteria applicable to biomass installations. Member States also gained the power to implement this policy in a more climate-friendly way. We strongly encourage them to use this opportunity to transpose this policy so that it protects forests, the climate, public health and biodiversity. They have until June 2025 to do this, and we have published a guide to explain how.

Phasing out biomass incentives

This guide identifies how to transpose the EU’s revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) to better protect forests, the climate, public health and other wood-using industries.

Wiser with wood

Does burning trees for energy harm the environment?

These fact sheets explain how bioenergy reduces biodiversity.

Why bioenergy is not a solution 

How bioenergy harms biodiversity

Martin Pigeon

Martin Pigeon

Forest and Climate Campaigner