(Luxembourg) Today, the EU’s Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council failed to close broad loopholes for forest biomass energy within a larger package of revisions to the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive. The Council’s proposal so far substantially weakens reforms to biomass policy that were advanced by the European Commission in July 2021.

See a detailed analysis of the Council proposal here.

The Energy Council proposal weakens or deletes reforms to biomass policy proposed by the European Commission. The document:

Removes broad protections for old growth, primary, and biodiverse forests: narrows the Commission’s proposal to protect ancient forests from biomass harvesting by requiring targeted and laborious administrative actions to protect specific forests.

Removes prohibition on draining forested peatlands for forest biomass: deletes Commission proposal to disqualify forest biomass sourced from drained peatlands under the RED (agricultural biomass from drained peatlands is already disqualified).

Waives key protections in flagship EU environmental legislation: adds a provision automatically waiving environmental protections in the Birds, Habitats, and Water Directives “in the interest of public health and safety,” for instance bypassing provisions in the Birds Directive that prohibit killing birds, disturbing them during the breeding season, and destroying their nests.

Weakens cascading principle: deletes the Commission’s call for a delegated act to administer the cascading principle, which would help take pressure off forests by ensuring that biomass is used for highest value materials first, with burning and disposal as final steps.

The Council proposal does support immediate phase-out of renewable energy subsidies for many electricity-only plants burning forest biomass, which is a positive development.

Nuno Forner of NGO Zero, which has just published an analysis of wood pellet production in Portugal, said: “Portugal’s pine production is in steep decline due to overharvesting by the pellet industry. Pellet production accounts for a fifth of total pine consumption, even though it represents only 3% of the export value of pine products. This kind of disproportionate impact is exactly why we need to take forest biomass out of the RED, and implement the cascading principle for biomass.”

Maarten Visschers of Dutch NGO Comité Schone Lucht, said: “Scientists and NGOs wonder, why does the Council ignore the science? There is no dispute that burning wood emits more CO2 than fossil fuels and the impact lasts decades to centuries. Here in the Netherlands, we see an exponential increase in use of forest wood for renewable energy, with pellets sourced from forest destruction in the Baltics and the USA. The Council’s failure to recommend ending incentives for logging and burning forests is a failure of leadership.”

Liina Steinberg of Save Estonia’s Forests, said: “To see the Council weaken the Commission’s already inadequate proposal is tragic. Showing that the concept of “sustainable” biomass is totally bankrupt, forests in Estonia are now a net source of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere due in part to overexploitation by the wood pellet industry. What will it take for policymakers to stop this ongoing forest destruction?”

The next decision regarding the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive revisions will take place in mid-July in the European Parliament’s (EP) Industry Committee (ITRE). It is essential that ITRE Members correct the negative course of Council, by endorsing the proposals advanced by the EP’s Environment Committee, ensuring that primary forest biomass can’t count towards the RED targets, doesn’t get billions in yearly subsidies and that all wood is used according to a EU-wide strict cascading principle. The EP’s final vote is expected in mid-September. We call on MEP’s to follow the science, not the bioenergy lobby.

See a detailed analysis of the Council proposal here.


More Logging, More Loopholes: EU Energy Ministers Water Down Proposed Reforms to Biomass Policy in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED)
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