Thursday, 14 May 2020
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According to a report by the EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC), 59% of the EU's renewable energy consumption came from "biomass" in 2016 and most of that came from trees.

A letter to the EU Parliament signed by almost 800 scientists says:

To Members of the European Parliament,

As the European Parliament commendably moves to expand the renewable energy
directive, we strongly urge members of Parliament to amend the present directive to avoid
expansive harm to the world’s forests and the acceleration of climate change. The flaw in
the directive lies in provisions that would let countries, power plants and factories claim
credit toward renewable energy targets for deliberately cutting down trees to burn them for
energy. The solution should be to restrict the forest biomass eligible under the directive to
residues and wastes.

For decades, European producers of paper and timber products have generated electricity
and heat as beneficial by-products using wood wastes and limited forest residues. Since
most of these waste materials would decompose and release carbon dioxide within a few
years, using them to displace fossil fuels can reduce net carbon dioxide emissions to the
atmosphere in a few years as well. By contrast, cutting down trees for bioenergy releases
carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests, and diverting wood otherwise used
for wood products will cause more cutting elsewhere to replace them.

Even if forests are allowed to regrow, using wood deliberately harvested for burning will
increase carbon in the atmosphere and warming for decades to centuries – as many studies
have shown – even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas. The reasons are
fundamental and occur regardless of whether forest management is “sustainable.” Burning
wood is inefficient and therefore emits far more carbon than burning fossil fuels for each
kilowatt hour of electricity produced. Harvesting wood also properly leaves some biomass
behind to protect soils, such as roots and small branches, which decompose and emit
carbon. The result is a large “carbon debt.” Re-growing trees and displacement of fossil fuels
may eventually pay off this “carbon debt’ but only over long periods. Overall, allowing the
harvest and burning of wood under the directive will transform large reductions otherwise
achieved through solar and wind into large increases in carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.
Time matters. Placing an additional carbon load in the atmosphere for decades means
permanent damages due to more rapid melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost, and
more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. At a critical moment when
countries need to be “buying time” against climate change, this approach amounts to
“selling” the world’s limited time to combat it.

The adverse implications not just for carbon but for global forests and biodiversity are also
large. More than 100% of Europe’s annual harvest of wood would be needed to supply just
one third of the expanded renewable energy directive. Because demand for wood and
paper will remain, the result will be increased degradation of forests around the world. The
example Europe would set for other countries would be even more dangerous. Europe has
been properly encouraging countries such as Indonesia and Brazil to protect their forests,
but the message of this directive is “cut your forests so long as someone burns them for
energy.” Once countries invest in such efforts, fixing the error may become impossible. If
the world moves to supply just an additional 3% of global energy with wood, it must double
its commercial cuttings of the world’s forests.

By 1850, the use of wood for bioenergy helped drive the near deforestation of western
Europe even when Europeans consumed far less energy than they do today. Although coal
helped to save the forests of Europe, the solution to replacing coal is not to go back to
burning forests, but instead to replace fossil fuels with low carbon sources, such as solar and
wind. We urge European legislators to amend the present directive to restrict eligible forest
biomass to appropriately defined residues and wastes because the fates of much of the
world’s forests and the climate are literally at stake.

Also, here's a couple of links talking about the problems associated with biomass:

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is it OK to burn trees for energy?
more than a month ago
Yesterday, over 500 scientists submitted a letter about this topic to EU Commission President Von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, US President Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Suga and South Korean President Moon:

Letter Regarding Use of Forests for Bioenergy
(February 11, 2021)

To President Biden, President von der Leyen, President Michel, Prime Minister Suga, and
President Moon,

The undersigned scientists and economists commend each of you for the ambitious goals you
have announced for the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea to achieve
carbon neutrality by 2050. Forest preservation and restoration should be key tools for achieving
this goal and simultaneously helping to address our global biodiversity crisis. We urge you not
to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil
fuels to burning trees to generate energy.

For decades, producers of paper and timber products have generated electricity and heat as byproducts
from their process wastes. This use does not lead to the additional harvest of wood. In
recent years, however, there has been a misguided move to cut down whole trees or to divert
large portions of stem wood for bioenergy, releasing carbon that would otherwise stay locked
up in forests.

The result of this additional wood harvest is a large initial increase in carbon emissions, creating
a “carbon debt,” which increases over time as more trees are harvested for continuing
bioenergy use. Regrowing trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this
carbon debt, but regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change. As
numerous studies have shown, this burning of wood will increase warming for decades to
centuries. That is true even when the wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.

The reasons are fundamental. Forests store carbon - approximately half the weight of dry wood
is carbon. When wood is harvested and burned, much and often more than half of the live
wood in trees harvested is typically lost in harvesting and processing before it can supply
energy, adding carbon to the atmosphere without replacing fossil fuels. Burning wood is also
carbon-inefficient, so the wood burned for energy emits more carbon up smokestacks than
using fossil fuels. Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood
initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.

Increases in global warming for the next few decades are dangerous. This warming means more
immediate damages through more forest fires, sea level rise and periods of extreme heat in the
next decades. It also means more permanent damages due to more rapid melting of glaciers
and thawing of permafrost, and more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. These
harms will not be undone even if we remove the carbon decades from now.

Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false
solution is replacing real carbon reductions. Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood,
which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly
decrease warming.

In some places, including Japan and French Guiana, there are proposals not just to burn wood
for electricity but to burn palm or soybean oil. Producing these fuels requires expansion of palm
or soybean production that leads to clearing of carbon dense tropical forests and reduction of
their important carbon sink, both of which add carbon to the atmosphere.

“Sustainability standards” for forest or vegetable oil management cannot alter these results.
Sustainable management is what allows wood harvest to eventually pay back carbon debts but
cannot alter these decades or even centuries of increased warming. Similarly, any increased
demand for vegetable oil adds to the global pressure to clear more forests already created by
rising food demands.

Making countries responsible for emissions from land use changes, although desirable, cannot
alone fix laws that treat burning wood as carbon neutral because these national responsibilities
do not alter the incentives created by those laws for power plants and factories to burn wood.
In the same way, the fact that countries are responsible for emissions from diesel fuel use
would not fix a law encouraging trucks to burn more diesel on the flawed theory that diesel is
carbon neutral. Both treaties that shape national climate responsibilities and each country’s
energy laws that implement them must accurately recognize the climate effects of the activities
they encourage.

Your decisions going forward are of great consequences for the world’s forests because if the
world supplied just an additional 2% of its energy from wood, it would need to double its
commercial wood harvests. There is good evidence that increased bioenergy in Europe has
already led to greatly increased forest harvests there. These approaches also create a model
that encourages tropical countries to cut more of their forests – as several countries have
pledged to do – undermining the goals of globally accepted forest agreements.

To avoid these harms, governments must end subsidies and other incentives that today exist
for the burning of wood whether from their forests or others. The European Union needs to
stop treating the burning of biomass as carbon neutral in its renewable energy standards and in
its emissions trading system. Japan needs to stop subsidizing power plants to burn wood. And
the United States needs to avoid treating biomass as carbon neutral or low carbon as the new
administration crafts climate rules and creates incentives to reduce global warming.

Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity. To meet future
net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not
to burn them.

Adam Thyer, Founder at GreenExecutive

more than a month ago
I can attest to this greenwashing of the use of biomass in Switzerland. It is insane how they "sustainably" manage their forests. They are clear-cutting the small islands of the forest they do have. Many times these mature trees 20+ yo are simply chipped to be used for energy production. Many times entire trees are cut down and then just left in large piles. Of particular concern is their cutting of riparian buffer. These trees along the small rivers and streams are many times the only forest left. Usually, they will leave the minimum of one tree of depth in the riparian buffer but sometimes not even this. The ecology of Switzerland especially in the state of Vaud is in dire need of regulatory control around forest management. The understories and biodiversity in the forests that are left are nearly non-existent. This is due to their heavy-handed harvesting and replanting with mono-culture many times just Doug-fir. Most understories are simply a mess of blackberry bramble. They speak as though they have such strict regulations and that everything is done to the highest standards of sustainability. Many of these forests are not only being strip-mined for biomass but are also being cordoned off from public access for reasons of "human impact".
more than a month ago
Here is a nicely written and researched story, "The ‘Green Energy’ That Might Be Ruining the Planet", about the science and politics of burning trees for energy from a US perspective.

Adam Thyer, Founder at GreenExecutive

one week ago
I knew that the EU uses biofuel, but I had no idea of the scale. This is insane!
one week ago
Apparently the burning of trees, including whole trees, for energy is expected to be listed as ‘sustainable’ in the EU's new green finance rules:

Adam Thyer, Founder at GreenExecutive

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