NGOs in the US have complained that EU bioenergy policy is destroying US forests. US conservationists and scientists, along with with a number of European NGOs, consider the biomass criteria currently under consideration by the Commission totally inadequate to address the harmful effects of biomass production and use.
In two separate letters to the Commission in August 2013, a coalition of more than 20 American NGOs and more than 60 scientists across the US explain that the conversion of large coal-burning to wood (co-)firing power plants, and the development of biomass plants in the EU have led to an explosive growth in wood pellet-manufacturing facilities across the US South. The facilities source wood from some of the US South’s most sensitive and imperiled forests and export it to the EU. Their claims are bolstered by recent reports revealing that a major wood pellet-manufacturing mill in North Carolina is threatening high biodiversity value wetland forests. The coalition adds, “demand for wood pellets in Europe is fueled by misguided energy policies, which incorrectly assume that burning wood will lower carbon emissions and help address climate change”; they urge the EU Commission to strengthen the proposed sustainability criteria for biomass use for energy.
The draft criteria have not been released yet but a coalition of NGOs lead by FERN rejects the recently leaked draft as scientific evidence, including the Commission’s own studies, demonstrate that, over time, burning trees to produce electricity actually increases carbon emissions compared with fossil fuels and contributes to other air pollution problems.
Second, bioenergy is very resource intensive (water, land, biomass itself) and is not efficient for generating heat and power, with electricity being the least efficient. The proposal ignores this basic fact, and allows particularly damaging kinds of wood (e.g., whole trees) to be burnt for energy. This contradicts the EU Resource Efficiency Initiative, which emphasises using resources where most efficient (e.g., using wood, first, for furniture and not burning it until all practical uses have been achieved).
Third, the proposed criteria lack coherence with other EU policy developments. In particular the proposed biomass criteria do not take into account negative effects from indirect land-use change (ILUC), like greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity losses. The Commission has, however, recognised these negative impacts and proposed to tackle ILUC in the context of biofuels production.
Fourth, the proposal fails to protect high biodiversity value forests and fails to ensure a strong definition of sustainable forest management.
FERN believes compelling ecological and economic reasons exist to protect and sustainably use forests, rather than increasingly relying on them for energy purposes. Alternatives exist to burning trees for electricity as a first option. Cascading use of wood and the use of residues or sustainably grown agricultural materials are better choices, provided strict standards are put in place. Other renewables such as wind or solar are also preferred alternatives. Overall EU biomass policy must be driven by what EU forests can sustainably supply. The EU must focus on reducing energy consumption and becoming more energy efficient so that demand does not go beyond what can be sustainably supplied from well managed European forests.