On 28 April 2015, the European Parliament voted to cap the use of, and subsidies for ‘land-based’ biofuels to meet the 2020 renewable energy target. Although sustainability concerns associated with biofuels remain, this deal recognises that land-based biofuels have negative environmental and social impacts.
Given this, one might expect MEPs to acknowledge the negative impacts associated with woody biomass for power and heating too. However, voting the same day on its report on the EU Forest Strategy, the Parliament underlined the potential of forests for bioenergy. This seems ill advised: according to the European Commission, by 2020 all of the wood currently harvested in the EU would be needed to meet projected biomass use – bringing into question how demand for paper and furniture would be met. Increasingly, EU forests are showing the strain from growing biomass demand.
As there is no EU sustainability policy relating to biomass, some Member States have developed their own standards while awaiting action from the Commission. Following a long multi-stakeholder process (FW 200), the Netherlands has just adopted its final sustainability criteria for biomass.
The Dutch criteria correspond to a great extent with the NGO recommendations published last month, and Fern’s report ‘Burning Matter’. The standard rightly emphasises the limited supply of biomass and the need to cap its use towards the renewable energy target. The standard includes criteria for sustainable forest management, carbon debt and indirect land-use change, and requires net greenhouse gas savings.
The Commission could simplify its work and advance the EU biomass policy by using these Dutch standards as a starting point.