On 30 November the EU Commission published its ‘Winter Package’, a 1,000 page document describing its climate and energy plans for after 2020. The package misses a crucial chance to end a bioenergy policy which damages forests and the climate and places untenable pressure on limited biomass resources.
First the good bits
Positively, the Commission recognised the importance of reducing energy demand, proposing a mandatory EU target to increase energy efficiency by 30 per cent. Such a target could also reduce demand for solid biomass for heating and cooling. Currently 90 per cent of the renewable energy consumed for this purpose comes from biomass. Also positive, regarding biomass for electricity, is the fact that the package includes a requirement to cogenerate heat, to ensure greater efficiency in the use of that resource.
But the Commission’s approach towards bioenergy is fundamentally flawed
The new proposal allows bioenergy to be ‘greenwashed’. Fern and others argue thatpolicies must both address the quantity of biomass demand, and differentiate between the quality of biomass sources and uses.
The new Commission proposal however, does exactly the opposite. It includes volume mandates for renewable energy production in the heating and cooling sector, and for ‘advanced biofuels’ (a woolly term with various definitions, generally referring to biofuels produced from the byproducts of forestry or agricultural activities in the transport sector). These requirements could increase demand for biomass to unsustainable levels. Worse, nowhere in the proposal are there measures to sufficiently counter the negative impacts of increased demand for bioenergy.
Sustainable Forest Management does not ensure sustainable levels of biomass demand
To ‘minimise the risk of using unsustainable forest biomass’ the proposal requires biomass to be only sourced from countries with rules on sustainable forest management (SFM) and how to account for land-use and forestry emissions (LULUCF). Fern has always argued that neither SFM nor LULUCF accounting rules can guarantee that bioenergy is sustainable, nor that using bioenergy results in reduced emissions. The proposal does nothing to tackle the real issues that influence whether bioenergy use reduces emissions, namely the overall scale of the demand and the impact bioenergy production has on forest carbon stocks.
By 2023, the Commission will review the ‘effectiveness’ of its approach of relying on SFM and LULUCF rules to minimise the risk of unsustainable forest biomass use. Following this review it may propose legislative changes, something Fern believes will be desperately needed.
Commission proposal is a disappointment, Parliament and Member States must do better
Ultimately, the Commission has further delayed the action needed to phase out land-based bioenergy. The Commission has now left bioenergy sustainability in the hands of the European Parliament and Member States. Their priority should be to ensure bioenergy use truly delivers greenhouse gas savings; something that the proposal abjectly fails to do.