The leaked draft of the “REpowerEU” document, which initially did not include wood-burning as a way to replace Russian fossil fuel imports, now shows the pernicious influence of the tree-burning lobby.
It now states, “Bioenergy makes up 60% of the renewable energy in the EU. It is a domestically available and stable energy source, especially solid biomass for some forest-rich Member States. As long as the strengthened safeguards for its sustainable sourcing are put into place and complied with, increased bioenergy use can contribute to replacing Russian imported fossil fuels including natural gas, e.g. for heating. Current estimates showing a moderate but steady increase of biomass use until 2030.”
By claiming wood can play a meaningful role, the document simply reveals the cynicism of the biomass lobby and the credulity of the EU Commission. (This is the same EC by the way that has claimed they want to restore forests and decrease emissions and count the forest carbon sink toward climate targets and this and that and everything green… ). To say nothing of the fact that wood-burning is also the largest source of fine particulate pollution in the EU, accounting for more than half the air pollution that sickens and kills many thousands of EU citizens each year.
But also, it shows they are counting on no one doing the math, because replacing just 10% of the energy generated from Russian fossil fuels would require increasing wood-burning by 60% – and because mill residues and other “waste” wood are already allocated, this wood would need to come from logging forests.
Here’s how we calculated that statistic. Using Eurostat data on indigenous production of wood for energy, we see that in 2019, fuelwood provided 3,146,619 terajoules (TJ) of energy input.
Meanwhile, the EC reports that Russian imports of coal, gas, and oil that year provided a certain percent of each fuel, which amounts to 14,811,108 TJ of gross inland consumption of those fuels (data on gross inland consumption from Eurostat).
Replacing fossil fuel energy with biomass energy isn’t just a TJ for TJ swap – because what’s actually being replaced is not simply the energy content of the Russian fossil fuels, but the “useful” energy generated with those fossil fuels. However, burning wood is very inefficient – meaning that to replace useful energy from fossil fuels requires a proportionately larger amount of wood energy input. In this case we estimate that to use wood to replace 10% of the energy generated by burning Russian fossil fuels requires replacing 13% of energy input from those fuels, a factor that is certainly conservative given how inefficient burning wood is (for instance, for electricity generation, a typical wood-burning plant is only about two-thirds as efficient as a coal plant, and about one-half as efficient as a typical gas plant)..
The 1,925,444 TJ of wood energy that would be required to replace 10% of Russian fossil fuels thus represents a 61% increase over the current 3,146,619 TJ of energy input from wood in the EU.
Where’s that 61% of new wood going to come from? It will come from forests. Yet current logging levels are already degrading the EU’s forest carbon sink (Figure 1), and increasing emissions compared to fossil fuels.
Figure 1. Decline in the EU’s land and forest carbon sink (which includes forests and harvested wood products). The EU’s 2025 Forest Reference Level (green dot) allows further loss of forest carbon, meaning the EU is unlikely to achieve its 2030 land sink target (brown dot).
The REpowerEU document is literally not worth the paper it’s printed on if it isn’t aligned with the science. Logging and burning forests for phony “renewable energy” degrades ecosystems, increases emissions, and literally sickens and kills people. For this EU citizens are paying out more than 10 billion per year in subsidies.
VP Timmermans – you say you care about forests – are you listening? We want a plan to get off Russian fossil fuels that doesn’t depend on burning more trees. The EU needs to protect and restore forests, not log them for energy.