Policy-makers must take heed of mounting opposition to the European Union’s disastrous use of wood to generate bioenergy.
Today scientists, NGOs and industry figures gather with EU policy makers for a conference discussing the future of the EU’s bioenergy policy. Two days ago, the Commission closed its public consultation on the EU’s post-2020 bioenergy policy. Together these events mark a critical moment in the campaign to change a policy that’s destroying forests and increasing carbon emissions.
Since the Renewable Energy Directive came into force, the EU has mainly relied on wood for the production of renewable energy. Today, woody biomass is the source for around 45 per cent of the renewable energy consumed, with wood being used for about 70 per cent of the EU’s bioenergy production.
As Fern and others have repeatedly shown, these increasing energy demands are not compatible with EU objectives on nature and biodiversity, CO2 reductions and resource efficiency. What’s worse, this boom in biomass burning is being fuelled by lavish state subsidies and other public incentives, without any guarantees that this is sustainable or actually leading to emission reductions – as the EU’s renewable energy policy aims to achieve. The burden of proof is now on policy makers and energy operators to show bioenergy truly contributes to a clean energy system.
While the European Commission is considering what a sustainable bioenergy policy should look like after 2020, we recommend taking into account sustainable limits of biomass supply and using the limited wood resource efficiently, and where it has the most climate benefits. This means a policy should look beyond simply the sustainable sourcing of biomass.
Here are the steps needed to reverse a policy which is clearly causing such harm:
The EU must end subsidies for burning woody biomass that’s directly harvested from forests; it must restrict the total amount of biomass that EU Members States can use towards their Renewable Energy Source (RES) targets to levels that can be sustainably supplied; it must only allow bioenergy to be counted towards renewable energy targets when emissions savings have been proven; it must ensure that wood is not burned for bioenergy when it can still serve other purposes, which will ensure that the policy doesn’t counter the objectives of a ‘circular economy’; it must implement strict and binding sustainability criteria to avoid negative impacts on the environment and people, while making sure that the burden of proof lies with energy operators and that compliance can be verified for specific operations.
In 2009 the EU got it badly wrong. It is not too late for it to come to its senses.