The European Commission is expected to publish proposals for a 2030 renewable energy and sustainable bioenergy policy on 30 November 2016. One of the main sticking points is whether the Commission will go beyond existing rules – such as on accounting land emissions and sustainable forest management (SFM) – and propose something additional that can ensure that (solid) biomass is sustainable and significantly reduces emissions.
EU bioenergy practices urgently require strong harmonised sustainability requirements that go beyond existing rules and regulations. Without additional policy, renewable energy subsidies will continue to drive demand for unsustainable biomass, significantly increasing pressure on forests and land.
The current renewable energy policy allows unrestricted use of bioenergy (currently 65 per cent of all renewable energy); disregarding that biomass is a limited resource. As Fern has stated, focusing on national SFM rules fails to tackle the negative impacts of bioenergy production on the climate and does not guarantee resource efficiency. National sustainability schemes for bioenergy are also problematic as they disregard important issues, including whether bioenergy is low carbon.
Current EU policies start from the flawed assumption that bioenergy is carbon-neutral because emissions from combustion are negated by re-growth of biomass, and that other emissions are accounted for in the land use sector. Fern has shown that bioenergy is not carbon-neutral and that we cannot rely on LULUCF rules to ensure that bioenergy reduces emissions.
Fern recommends that an EU bioenergy policy limits bioenergy use to what can be sustainably supplied, bans the use of ‘high-risk’ sources and promotes resource efficiency. This Commission may be reluctant to initiate new legislation, but is setting Europe up for disaster if it fails to address the EU’s unrestricted reliance on biomass as a ‘renewable’ energy source. If the EU does not repair its bioenergy policy, the weakest link in EU renewables policy, taxpayers’ money will continue to be spent on burning forests.