1. Ben Bailey
  2. Energy
  3. Thursday, 14 May 2020
Hi All

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:

https://www.nrdc.org/resources/our-forests-arent-fuel

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/3/4/18216045/renewable-energy-wood-pellets-biomass

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is it OK to burn trees for energy?


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