New European Commission research reveals bioenergy’s bleak impact on forests

3 February 2021

New European Commission research reveals bioenergy’s bleak impact on forests

“The Use of Woody Biomass for Energy Production in the EU”, the new study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), has been released. It will inform the revision of EU climate and renewable energy legislation, and it identifies some worrisome trends. 

In order to propose “win-win” practices and avoid “lose-lose” situations that damage both climate and ecosystems, the JRC identifies the impact of management practices (Figure 42) on biodiversity and the climate. In the resulting matrix, only two of 24 management practices are deemed ‘neutral/positive’. This includes fine woody debris removal − but as has been pointed out, it is hard to see what industry would bother with that. For 19 other practices, the JRC sounds an alarm. 

The JRC also points to a significant increase overall in EU use of woody biomass, about 20 per cent since 2000 − and an increasing tendency not to disclose its source. Primary woody biomass makes up at least 37 per cent of wood for energy production. Worryingly, they register that 14 per cent is reported ‘uncategorised’, although: “Based on our analysis of the woody biomass flows, the source is more likely to be primary wood. … Unfortunately, we observe that the tendency of reporting as unknown origin the wood used for energy production is increasing.” In sum, almost half of the wood used in energy production comes from the forest, not the leftovers from sawmills and pulp mills. 

Other significant issues are flagged: for instance, increased logging for bioenergy entails the need to reduce emissions in other sectors to make up for lost carbon storage, a factor not adequately considered in many Member State National Energy and Climate Plans

The JRC report underscores the weaknesses of the current policy framework and its inability to mitigate the risk that bioenergy will harm forests and climate. Fern policy advisor Linde Zuidema says, “The findings of this study scare me: the climate and biodiversity crises need urgent solutions but the EU is adding more fuel to the fire by increasingly relying on wood burning to reach renewables targets. This is EU climate policy going rogue. We hope this report will be a wake-up call for the Commission to overhaul the Renewable Energy Directive to keep bioenergy in check, and prioritise cleaner sources of renewable energy.” 

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Categories: Forest Watch, Bioenergy

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