In December 2014, the Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp, presented the Dutch Parliament with a set of sustainability criteria to be used to assess whether biomass should be used for power generation. The criteria were agreed by energy companies and NGOs and include consideration of biodiversity, soil quality, carbon debt and direct and indirect land use change. They have been in development since discussions between environmental NGOs, the private sector and the government led to an Energy Agreement in 2013. This agreement also includes a cap on the amount that biomass co-fired in coal plants can be counted towards the Dutch renewable energy target of 14 per cent by 2020.
Both the cap and the sustainability criteria are steps forward as they show the Dutch Government is acknowledging that (woody) biomass is a limited resource which should only be used for energy generation when its sustainability and climate benefits have been proven. Proof of sustainability can be achieved through verification or certification. Certificates by private schemes such as PEFC and FSC have to be approved first by the Dutch government.
The implementation of criteria is important to avoid deforestation and forest degradation, not only in Europe, but also abroad. Together with the United Kingdom and Belgium, the Netherlands is among the largest importers of wood pellets in the EU. Most of the biomass is being imported from North America, where high biodiverse forests are being felled for the EU’s ‘renewable’ energy demands.
NGOs and energy companies in the Netherlands have until March to agree on the different implementation phases (starting this year with the largest areas and gradually covering smaller areas with completion by 2024). Once agreed, this biomass policy will set the stage for the international debate on biomass use, and harmonisation of biomass sustainability criteria at the EU level.