EU climate policy has a fatal flaw

While you’re here: you can help end the EU’s dependence on burning wood for energy by signing this petition

The European Union wants to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, more than 60% of the EU’s renewable energy comes from bioenergy, including burning forest wood for fuel, which constitutes around 20% of the EU’s renewable energy.  Though burning biomass emits as much or more CO2 per unit energy as fossil fuels, under the EU’s rules, bioenergy is counted as having “zero” carbon emissions.

The problem?

  1. Trees don’t grow back overnight – so while burning wood is technically “renewable,” it actually increases GHG emissions for decades to centuries, according to the European Commission’s own scientists.
  2. Logging forests for fuel is degrading ecosystems, driving biodiversity loss, and hollowing out forests.
  3. Burning wood and other biomass is a major source of the air pollution that was causing 1,000 premature deaths per day in Europe even before the pandemic.
  4. European citizens pay more than €6 billion  and up to €17 billion per year to subsidize bioenergy as “renewable energy.”

The EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) sets out criteria for forest biomass that are supposed to mitigate damage to ecosystems and the climate. However, these criteria will do nothing to stop the ongoing damage – they are a paper tiger.  The EU’s entire approach on use of forest biomass needs reform. That is what this campaign is about.


The EU has embarked on an ambitious program of legislation

The EU aims to be the first carbon neutral continent. To even come close, countries must protect and restore forests so they can take up CO2 from the atmosphere – not burn them for fuel, which pumps CO2 into the atmosphere.

Beginning in 2020, and scheduled through late 2022, the European Parliament in Brussels is crafting new legislation and overhauling existing legislation to tackle the intertwined crises of climate change and biodiversity collapse. European policymakers are hammering out agreements over the Green Deal, a landmark legislative roadmap that envisions the European Union of 2050 as carbon neutral, free of pollution, protective of biodiversity, and thriving with an economy that is both circular and competitive. To spur this effort forward, the EU has increased the 2030 EU emissions reduction target from the current 40% reduction of 1990 emissions levels to a 55% reduction of 1990 levels. The Green Deal has opened the RED II for renegotiation, including the interpretation of biomass as renewable energy.

As the EC and EP review the RED II, the time for public pressure on this issue is right now.


The Campaign: Stop burning forests for “renewable energy”

To save ecosystems and the climate, EU needs policies that put forests first.  Paying people to log and burn forests for renewable energy is counterproductive, and it needs to stop.

This comes with an important caveat, however: energy poverty is a serious problem in the EU, and many people rely on burning wood for heating. Thus, no one expects people to stop burning wood for energy altogether.  However, ending subsidies and incentives that are driving increased use of forest wood for fuel would help protect forests and free up billions in renewable energy subsidies annually for investment in efficiency, true zero-emissions renewable energy, and compensation to forest owners for financial impacts of growing forests instead of cutting them. Currently, about half the wood cut in the EU is used for energy, and EU forests are in a trajectory to lose even more carbon in the coming years.

Thus the single regulation change of eliminating use of forest wood for “renewable energy” could represent significant and fast-acting climate mitigation.

Through mid-2022 is the rare chance to reform policies that are undermining climate mitigation, harming forests, wiping out species, and polluting the air. Networks of organizations and activists who have monitored the forestry and biomass industries for years are racing to move opinion within EU member states, the EU Commission and Parliament.  However, this movement has powerful opposition. The forestry and biomass industries are spending millions to lobby so they can keep getting paid to harvest forests for fuel.


What is the Forest Defenders Alliance doing to end logging forests for renewable energy?

The FDA is an assemblage of groups that share a couple of common goals: greater protection and restoration of forests, and ending the use of forest wood as a source of renewable energy under the EU’s rules. The FDA’s goal is to amplify the voice of NGOs in Europe and in countries with forests that are threatened by EU policies.  Some countries and regions represented include:

  • Estonia, where NGOs are tracking the harvest of wetland boreal forests for fuel, and filing litigation against forest exploitation;
  • British Columbia, Canada, where NGOs are tracking the harvest of primary inland rainforest as wood pellet feedstock;
  • Romania, where illegal logging in Europe’s last primeval forests is driven in part by the surging demand for wood as fuel;
  • Slovakia, where extreme demand for biomass fuel led even the government to clamp down on burning wood in power plants – but where nonetheless logging for fuel continues;
  • The Netherlands, where a number of wood-burning plants have been proposed, and NGOs have organized an amazing country-wide resistance.

Take action now

  1. Sign the petition supported by over 100 NGOs across the EU and in biomass-exporting countries, telling the EU to stop the false climate solution of burning forest wood for “renewable energy”
  2. Endorse the Forest Defender Principles for a forest policy in the EU that reverses collapsing biodiversity, restores ecosystems, and ensures that forests help mitigate climate change
  3. Weigh in on EU policy on the current consultations page
  4. Visit the Resources page for research and factsheets on forest biomass