MEPs have chance to stop second EU bioenergy blunder

Posted on 20 October 2017

Some bioenergy makes sense, but burning tree trunks and stumps increases emissions for decades. Yet that’s what’s happening now - and nothing in the European Commission’s proposals will stop it.
Brussels, Belgium - 20 October 2017

What’s happening:

MEPs face a crucial committee vote on bioenergy on Monday 23 October. This is when the European Parliament’s Environment (ENVI) committee will vote on amendments to the proposed Renewable Energy Directive.

The ENVI committee has ‘exclusive competence’ for the parts of the Directive that deal with bioenergy. This is why the vote on Monday is critical to the position the Parliament, and in due course the whole EU, will adopt on this issue.

Alex Mason, senior renewable energy policy officer at WWF European Policy Office said:

“Is the EU about to be fooled twice on bioenergy? It had its fingers burned on crop-based biofuels, yet is about to make the same mistake with forests.

Some bioenergy makes sense, but burning tree trunks and stumps increases emissions for decades. Yet that’s what’s happening now - and nothing in the European Commission’s proposals will stop it.

The only hope is that MEPs see sense and vote on Monday to stop subsidies for burning trees and stumps.

Countries such as Finland are usually progressive on environmental issues, but biomass is their blind spot. Finnish MEPs have to ignore the position of their government and vote with the science.”

More information:

The Rapporteur in ENVI, the Green MEP Bas Eickhout, has proposed some sensible amendments to the European Commission’s proposal, which would go a long way to ensuring that forest biomass burned in the EU is lower carbon than fossil fuels. Specifically, he has proposed excluding stemwood and stumps from scope, and only allowing Member States to incentivise the use of wastes and residues.

However, this is being opposed by much of the biomass industry, which does not want to have any restrictions imposed on what it can burn (although it claims it only uses wastes and residues), and by Member States such as Finland.

The key issues at stake on Monday concern crop-based biofuels (for example biodiesel made from palm oil and oilseed crops and ethanol made from cereal crops) and forest biomass (for example wood chips and pellets). The EU was forced to impose a cap on the quantities that could be counted towards EU targets because it turned out they had higher GHG emissions than fossil fuels - due to their impact on deforestation. This didn't solve the problem so the Commission has proposed tightening the cap  (from 7% to 3.8% in 2030).

For forest biomass the Commission has proposed a range of sustainability criteria, covering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) accounting and sustainable forest management, to apply to installations over 20 MW in size.

WWF supports the phase-out of support for crop-based biofuels, as these are not lower carbon than fossil fuels and are therefore completely counterproductive as a means of tackling climate change. Growing food or letting unused land return to forest - absorbing carbon in the process - are both better options than biofuel production, even taking account of by-products such as animal feed, and we should instead use genuine wastes and residues.

On forest biomass, the science is now incontrovertible. Some bioenergy makes sense, but burning ‘stemwood’ (i.e. tree trunks) and stumps for energy will increase emissions compared to fossil fuels for decades, and so is also completely counterproductive in climate terms. This is true regardless of how forests are managed or whether overall carbon stocks are increasing.

The Commission’s proposals on forest biomass are largely meaningless and will not stop companies burning tree trunks and stumps. The GHG criteria only cover processing emissions, sustainable forest management is not relevant to the carbon impacts of specific feedstocks, and LULUCF accounting at country level will not stop companies in the EU, Russia or the US from harvesting trees for energy - particularly given that the Commission’s proposed LULUCF rules have been emasculated by MEPs and Member States such as Finland